In a recent issue of the New Yorker, the editors asked a group of artists to draw some possible uses for the land where the twin towers once stood. The one by Komar and Malmid shows two tall red silos, a barn and cows grazing on lush green grass. The caption reads: "Every city needs a milk farm."
In the past few years, I've driven down Michigan Avenue hundreds of times ferrying my children to school. I've seen the combination of new homes, rehabs, demolition-ready models and vast expanses of lawn roll by, and caught a glimpse of what Buffalo once was: the country.
What if we took Buffalo back to its premetropolis days, and used our copious empty plots for minifarms? Why bemoan the loss of arable land in Clarence and East Amherst when an abundance of city lots awaits anyone with a shovel and some seeds?
Detroit has 40,000 vacant lots and Philadelphia has 30,000. Each now houses urban farms generating food, work and hope, not to mention making some neighborhoods safer and more cohesive.
In our own state, the Cornell Cooperative Extension has set up a farmers' market in a poverty-stricken area in Brooklyn. It is staffed by children 11-14 years old who are paid $5 an hour. They work their own garden and help others farm theirs.
After suffering under the negative moniker of Rust Belt City, we could transform ourselves into something unique: Farm City. How many of us love the extremes of the city and country? Well, here we would have both, and, for once, we'd be on the cutting edge of urban planning.
Think of all the potential farmers who would love planting their crops during the day and walking to the theater or restaurants at night. How many young couples all across America would give up their CD burners for a chance to own conveniently situated parcels, especially since they wouldn't be forfeiting a nightlife?
While we have finally understood how important it is to a viable downtown to have people live there, we've gotten it completely wrong when thinking of our sheer square mileage as a burden. We just need a new development strategy.
The farmers' market on Bidwell Parkway is as popular as gingham on an apron. If that's any indication of people's desire for home-grown produce, we should have folks lining up for their free land. Yes, it would be free, or nearly, because now it's costing the city money to mow and patrol. If utilized, it would generate taxes. How many cities can entice new denizens by giving away land? Let's take one of our liabilities, too much space for our population, and turn it into a benefit.
Buffalo could become famous as the first "vegetarian community." We could lure vegetarians with the prospect of their own free, organic gardens via ads in Vegetarian Times, making the national news media sit up and take notice. Just imagine some positive press, rather than the typical pieces on 7 feet of snow in Buffalo.
These gardens could give soon-to-retire baby boomers a cottage industry. Grow your own produce and can that special pickle relish Aunt Sadie used to make. By selling through the Internet and eBay stores, you might be the next Heinz with Buffalo as your corporate headquarters.
Utilizing this plan, Buffalo would not only be repopulating some uninhabited areas, it would set the bar for home-based businesses. Who around here wouldn't like to read a nice, big, flattering piece about our fair city in the Wall Street Journal?
Let's take advantage of those baby boomers and generation Xers who want the excitement of the city with the bucolic setting of the country.
As comedian Judy Tenuta used to say: "It could happen."
NICOLE S. URDANG is a holistic psychotherapist in Buffalo.
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