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Change here? You must be kidding

It's hard not to sense a pattern.

For all the moaning that people do around here about the lack of change, when we get a chance to do something, we run headlong into the arms of the status quo. My proposed motto for Western New York: "You can't stop the inertia."

Fourteen years after the nation's best minds drew us a road map for revival at the Chautauqua Conference on Regionalism, we determinedly drive in the wrong direction.

We still have a handful of town development agencies pillaging businesses from one another. The Amherst IDA last week used $530,000 in tax breaks to lure a medical-billing company from neighboring Cheektowaga. It's regional self-cannibalization.

We're still among the few counties with no regional planning board. Such a panel would guide new business into the city, slow sprawl and bring jobs for those most in need. It would be a welcome larger-picture antidote to the "small think" propagated by Erie County's 44 separate cities, towns and villages. Chris Collins was the latest county executive to quash the planning board idea, lest it chip into his power base. Welcome to Siloville.

It gets worse. There are, from Charlotte to Indianapolis, a glut of examples of metro government. Each competes as a unified front in the global economy. Yet we hold tight to the extra cost and narrower vision of a multitude of municipalities. The rejection of village-dissolution attempts in Williamsville, Farnham and Sloan last year all but snuffed out hopes for less, more-centralized government. Villagers celebrated victory -- but in the long run, we're not winning.

I don't blame folks for valuing the character and charm of village life. But -- as shown by nonmunicipal sections from Snyder to Elmwood Village -- those qualities spring from demographics, street layout and zoning laws. They're not a consequence of a village boundary guarded by elected officials.

Meanwhile, the baby boom generation is rushing headlong into seniorhood, yet officials in the towns of Orchard Park and West Seneca -- in what looks to be a paranoia about poor people -- have barred lower-income housing for senior citizens. If the Geritol crowd provokes the fear factor, imagine how apoplectic these officials are about lower-income housing in general. Yet growing cities elsewhere require that 15 percent of any new housing include a lower-income piece. It brings the working poor closer to suburban jobs and counteracts "warehousing" of the inner-city poor.

Confining poor people to job-dead neighborhoods stacks the odds against them and overloads city schools with baggage-heavy kids. Meanwhile, suburban districts chock-full of kids from two-parent, college-degree homes crow about their test scores. Give me a break.

I know this is one man, one screed. And I know that plenty of our problems are traceable to the crushing load of taxes and fees generated by Albany to feed its perked-and-privileged campaign contributors. But there are things we can do to help ourselves. Time and again, we look Change in the eye and back away.

Parting shot: Village of Depew voters this month rejected a reformist mayor, signaling a return to friends-and-family hiring practices.

Change? Plenty of need for it. Not much stomach.


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