A city in essence is an idea. It is an idea that people who live there can rally around. An idea that symbolizes and reflects the true character of its citizens. An idea the lifts its citizen up.
Athens was the city of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Athens is remembered for its beautiful Doric columns and the wisdom of her philosophers. It was a city that drew people from all over the known world who were proud to say they were Athenians.
What is the essence of Buffalo? Lately I have been worried. Seems every time I stop in a convenience store, I am stranded in line between avid lottery ticket buyers spending their hard-earned cash on the dream of good fortune. In a dark corner of the store, folks sit like zombies just waiting for numbers to scroll across the screen. Meanwhile, life goes on and opportunity passes by.
Originally, we Buffalonians were associated with the Erie Canal. We were a destination and a jumping-off point to the wonders of the West.
Then we became the City of Light, with parks by Fredrick Law Olmsted and buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. Buffalo was the cutting edge, the land of rich possiblility. We were the future.
Lately, Buffalo has become known as the capital city of bad ideas. What are its symbols? An expressway though Delaware Park, an unreachable waterfront and now the proposal of a gambling casino downtown. That's not my Buffalo.
My Buffalo is the Buffalo of beautiful neighborhoods where residents pull together through blizzards and missed field goals. My Buffalo is the Buffalo where men and women sit out on a frozen lake and ice fish despite subzero temperatures. My Buffalo is the Buffalo of Elmwood Avenue, small intimate shops and street side politics. My Buffalo is the Buffalo of theaters and Shakespeare in Delaware Park, of elegant road races and great sports fans who shrug off missed championships like annoying gnats at a picnic.
My Buffalo is the Buffalo of Tifft Nature Preserve, the Albright-Knox and the magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral. It is a town for intellectual excellence, cutting-edge medical research and nanotechnology. It's a city that loves poetry, good music and ethnic food. Chicken wings are just the tip of the culinary iceberg in my Buffalo.
The Ancient Greek god of Fortune was pictured as a lady of loose virtue who bestowed herself indiscriminately on her worshipers. Gambling is the new god of Fortune. It is a drain on the economy, not a boon. It produces nothing but heartache and the cheapest sort of dreams. And worse, it provides a negative symbol that will attract no one back to Buffalo, the essential Buffalo.
In a time when our children are heading out of town in record numbers, I don't believe any will be drawn back by slot machines or roulette wheels. We are the city of good neighbors, not good gamblers. That's the essential idea that makes Buffalo what it is and what it can become.
The future of Buffalo won't be found sitting around in a convenience store hoping her numbers will come up. Don't dim the City of Light with rows of slot machines and torn-up tickets. Let's build a Buffalo that will stand proudly on the strong shoulders of our noble lineage. Let's rebuild the City of Light so our children can find their way back home again.
Tom O'Malley, a teacher who lives in Buffalo, believes that gambling is a drain on the economy, not a boon.