Buffalo's Hertel Avenue doesn't cease being Little Italy when the annual Italian Heritage Festival ends. It's just that the big marketing push stops.
The solution to that, as a group of creative graduate students from the Rochester Institute of Technology has pointed out, is to use a little money and a lot of creativity and energy to carry the spirit of the four-day festival, and the decades-old neighborhood vibe, throughout the year.
Any healthy city is built on healthy neighborhoods. New York, San Francisco, London and Paris would not be the popular tourist destinations, and magnets for the creative classes, they are if they were just skylines or airports. Giant metroplexes, to be at all livable, have to be broken down into comfortable, naturally formed subdivisions, places that both residents and visitors can get to know, with unique feelings and idiosyncrasies that can be enjoyed by people who feel they've been let in on a special secret.
Savvy travelers and published travel guides divide most great cities into neighborhoods, often based on the ethnic groups that founded them or continue to predominate local culture and commerce.
Hertel Avenue, particularly the mile-long stretch between Delaware and Parkside avenues, is made to order.
The neighborhood's residents, particularly its many restaurateurs and shopkeepers, already know that, of course. So do other longtime Buffalonians and newcomers who have been clued in to the opportunities available there.
What the RIT students have cooked up and presented to the heritage festival organizers is a way to make the identity of the neighborhood better known by carrying more of the spirit of the festival into daily life. Their proposal includes things as mundane as themed trash containers and benches, Italian-looking bus shelters and lamp posts, up to more elaborate ideas such as murals, custom pavements and maps of the area.
Neighborhood property owners and business people will be expected to take the lead, and pass the hat, for such improvements. But some city, county or state support, which would be repaid in higher tax revenues and a more stable employment base, would not be at all unreasonable.
The only reasonable response to the students' project is to say, go for it.
And then to say, to many more people, "Benvenuto a Buffalo."