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Let's shed our thin skin and grow up

Maybe I'm getting old. I just can't get worked up about it anymore. I've seen it too many times. Some team or group or random blogger comes in from Parts Distant and says something bad about Buffalo. We get all worked up about it -- mad, hurt, defensive. Enough already.

I know that we are the Sally Field -- "You like us, you really really like us" -- of American cities. We wear our heart on our collective sleeve. We constantly seek validation from outsiders. I think it is time we just stopped. It is time we got to the point where, no matter what some outsider says about us -- good, bad or ugly -- we have the same reaction: So what?

I think it's time, communally, to grow up.

We are hardly the only city whose downtown was emptied out by decades of suburban sprawl. We are not the only victim of 1960s "urban renewal" that bulldozered near-downtown neighborhoods -- in our case, residential blocks along Elm and Oak streets.

Yes, I know that if your room at the downtown Hyatt faces Main Street, it is easy to imagine that you are in Berlin, circa 1946. We do not need a tweeting teenage hockey player or a snarky blogger to tell us that.

But I also know this: We have, along Chippewa Street, a real, live downtown bar/restaurant district, which was not there 20 years ago. Anyone who is staying at a downtown hotel can walk to a movie or to a dozen restaurants or to a different bar for every hour of the day.

I know that we are years behind most other cities in repopulating downtown. But we finally caught on in the last decade. Each year, more and more old buildings get filled with apartments. Our ghost downtown is slowly dying.

"There are a lot of big cities where there aren't a lot of folks around on weekends," Tim McConnell told me. "I didn't find that unusual."

McConnell is from Denver. He got into town Saturday for the hockey tournament. He likes the free Metro Rail that runs from his hotel right to HSBC Arena. He was impressed by the grand old buildings he saw on the ride. He ate great wings at the Anchor Bar.

A half-dozen people I spoke with Monday at the Hyatt -- all of whom had been here for days -- said similarly nice things. But I have the nagging feeling, like I always do when asking visitors how they like Buffalo, that along with their answers comes an unspoken question: Why does it matter so much to us?

Frankly, I don't think that it should. I don't think we should get worked up because some teenager gets a bad first impression, or because a few bloggers declare Buffalo the armpit of the universe. None of it should provoke a tortured communal self-analysis. Look, we live here, we know that Buffalo is better than that, and I'm not going to bother to list the quality-of-life/cultural/natural-wonder reasons why. We know them by heart. We also know what we don't have going for us, and we're working on it.

The NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments and other big-splash, visitor-heavy events have been rolling in for years. I think we do a pretty good job with these things. There are plenty of bars and restaurants downtown and, on days when their team is not playing, visitors can go to Niagara Falls or to the Walden Galleria. All in all, there are plenty of worse places for an out-of-towner to be.

Whether somebody comes in -- somebody who doesn't know this place anywhere near as well as we do -- and says that it's a pit, or declares that it's a paradise, shouldn't make much of a difference to us. We know who we are, for better and for worse.

I am at the point where I don't much care what a visitor thinks about Buffalo. I know that I'm not the only one. Maybe it's a sign we're getting older. Or, finally, just wiser.


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