There’s a lot going Buffalo’s way right now, and it’s all of a piece. Waterfront development begins, courtesy of money derived from the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus begins a vast expansion. Larkinville develops into a go-to location. The state, under the leadership of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is pumping $1 billion into the economy to help this struggling but sturdy city.
And what happens? People notice. Food trucks start showing up. Bike lanes appear. More construction begins. And, as important as anything else that has happened in Buffalo over the past decade, younger people start moving back – and at a startling pace.
It’s a development that augurs well for Buffalo’s future – if it can be sustained. And doing that requires action.
The chart that accompanied Tuesday’s story in The Buffalo News about Millennials moving back to the city was eye-opening. Between 2000 and 2006, both the city’s overall population and the share that included ages 20-34 continued their long downward slide.
But something happened beginning in 2006. While the general population continued to shrink, the 20-34 age group spiked, growing at a 10 percent pace – among the fastest rates of all counties in New York and easily topping the national growth rate in that age group.
There were several reasons, including the aging of a group that, like most, was no longer so eager to get away from home. Exploring the world outside provided a scale on which to compare life in Buffalo to pastures that once seemed greener.
At least as important, though, was the influence of the national economy, which tanked shortly after Millennials started coming home. As economically weak as Buffalo has been, it absorbed the recession’s pounding better than most regions, making it comparatively more attractive for job seekers. And so they came back, not in a trickle but a stream.
In that development lies Buffalo’s hopes for a thriving future. For years, this has been a declining city marked by poverty and an aging population. Youth provides the antidote – a basis for new growth, new ideas and the kind of passion that too often depletes with age.
The test will come as the national economy continues to improve and other regions again beckon with new opportunities and lower taxes.
A couple of things need to happen to ensure that those repatriates want to stay repatriated.
One is that the Western New York economy needs to continue its own rising trajectory, and there is good reason to believe that could occur. Cuomo’s focus on this city and area has created a new playing field for the regional economy, one that figures to help the city continue to grow.
At least as important, though, is for Buffalo schools to improve to the point that young families won’t veer away from the city for fear that their children’s education will be substandard. Today, that is the case, and solving it will be no simple thing. Poverty is a powerful factor in the district’s problems. So are district leadership and labor issues, driven in significant part by state laws that lean heavily in favor of unions and away from both taxpayers and students.
For now, though, Buffalo is looking good to a population that is essential to the city’s continued recovery. That was a natural consequence of evolving values and a man-made outgrowth of policies that have changed this city’s outlook. We need to encourage its continuation.