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Reasons for optimism at year's end

Maybe it's cleaning up all those pine needles that have fallen from the tree. Or ripping down the twinkling lights in bitter cold temperatures. Or the silence that replaces the near-constant buzz of Christmas music.

But this is the week of my holiday blues. As I wish 2010 farewell, I cannot help but hope that the anxiety that hung over the year washes away with 2011. That 2010 was simply the hangover of a decade of gloom. That there is still reason for optimism.

We need hope -- especially now. And if you look hard enough, you can find optimism in some unlikely places.

Take the budget whirlwind that swept up the Buffalo & Erie County Library. Forget, for a moment, the financial crisis that was thrust on the institution. There is hope because library leaders have not let the political storm stop them from planning for the future.

In November, just as the budget showdown was heating up, library leaders were holding a different kind of public meeting. They took their show on the road -- asking library patrons to think beyond the 2011 budget, to imagine what the library system should look like 10 or 15 years down the road. They asked people to think beyond the limits of the year's financial mess.

On a parallel path, the library's board has pursued ways to untangle the library from political control.

The library's "Re-imagine campaign" is a bright spot in a bleak time. They looked beyond the crisis of the day and asked us to dream about tomorrow. And they asked that at a time when it seemed as though there was little out there but nightmares.

"It's time to be bold and be brave and chart a course," library Director Bridget Quinn-Carey told people gathered at Erie Community College South for one of several public meetings focused on the library's future.

Those are rare words in a time of retraction. Western New York has become so accustomed to the language of entrenchment -- rightsizing, restructuring, reorganizing -- we've forgotten, at times, to re-imagine. It is innovation that is going to fuel our future. We have to stop squabbling over what little we have today and start brainstorming about what we will have tomorrow.

Gov. David Paterson called it right on his to Buffalo last visit. "Sometimes," he told News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy, "I think I'm in Beirut because of the lack of cooperation that exists between the leaders here."

There is hope, as well, in rejection. When Bass Pro bowed out of Buffalo's waterfront, it freed us from the constraints that had shackled our view of the waterfront. Hundreds gathered on a Saturday afternoon to envision what the the waterfront could look like.

When people later took their concerns to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., leaders chose to listen. They scrapped an outdated plan to build faux canals, delayed construction of an underground parking garage and fast-tracked ideas to generate more waterfront activity by next summer.

It is this rare combination of creativity and responsiveness that should give us optimism that things are on a better track. It's happening at the library. It's happening on the waterfront, and there's no reason it can't happen in dozens of other ways that could shape our future.

It has been all too easy this year to fall into a state of despair, to give in to the unsettling feeling that the world is spiraling out of control. That there is little we can do. That the wars and layoffs and budget holes are too much to overcome.

But there is hope for 2011. We've seen signs for optimism. Our creative juices are already flowing. The community is ours to re-imagine.

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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