Recent population statistics on the decline of cities in the Northeast should give us pause for concern. With a population of 580,000 in 1950 as the 15th largest city in the nation, Buffalo had a population of 276,000 people in 2005, dropping to the 66th largest city in the nation.
In 1900, with 350,000 population, it was the eighth largest city. Some recent statistics indicate that the city's population is now below 250,000.
We are about to lose the critical mass that makes a city viable, and our major cultural and recreational activities are truly at risk. It is already evident that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Historical Society, the Science Museum, the Studio Museum, the Buffalo Zoo and the African-American Cultural Institution are facing severe financial shortages. There also has been recent talk about the fate of the Buffalo Bills, and the Buffalo Sabres may also be threatened.
The flight to the suburbs has left the city with masses of poor and underprivileged people, and the suburbs, where not only the middle class but many of its institutions fled, have been unwilling to assist the city in any meaningful way, forgetting that without Buffalo they would not exist.
We need to act, and to act now to save our Buffalo. The answer now is the same as it was 40 years ago when our population was twice as large as it is today. Then, only the university and its size and magnitude could stem the decline of the city. Now a multibillion-dollar engine for the growth of suburban Amherst, the University at Buffalo needs to be truly become the University at Buffalo.
Shortly after his arrival in Buffalo, UB President John Simpson made a major decision in putting on hold a proposed $300 million commercial center on the Amherst campus, recognizing the harm that it would do to Buffalo. The university now is considering where to put 10,000 new students and 2,500 new faculty members. Amherst, the fastest-growing town in Western New York, doesn't want them and surely doesn't need them, but Buffalo does.
Put them on the waterfront downtown, near the rich cultural and historical resources Buffalo has, so they can gain an appreciation of urban values.
Buffalo has another major jewel -- the underused, unappreciated billion-dollar light rail rapid transit system. Coupled with this should be efforts by our elected officials to extend the light rail rapid transit system to both Amherst and to the waterfront. Student and faculty housing should be built around the transit stations. This would allow both students and faculty easy access to the rich cultural venue that is the city. Then the university could truly call itself the University at Buffalo.
The clock is ticking down on Buffalo. The time to act is now.
Robert T. Coles is a Buffalo architect who served in 1966 as chairman of the Committee for an Urban University, which sought to site the new university campus on the waterfront.