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In Focus: Urban activist Mark Goldman

He was a strong voice in reshaping waterfront development plans, touting the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” model. Two decades earlier, he helped revive Chippewa Street.

Now, Mark Goldman is focusing his efforts on a Black Rock neighborhood.

The urban activist, entrepreneur and local historian sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about a variety of issues. Here is a summary of some of the key points that were discussed. Watch the full seven-minute interview at

Meyer: You [believe] that Western New York should ban the phrase “used to be.” “We used to be a city of a half-million people. We used to be a major manufacturing center.” Why?

Goldman: Just like in your own personal life, you want to focus on who you are now and who you can be in the future. You build on your past, certainly, but you certainly can’t replicate it. … You have to adapt and change and make the most of who you are – where you are. We have a great deal to build on. … “Used to be” just kind of holds us back.

Meyer: When you talk about building on [assets], obviously there has been a lot going on on the waterfront. You were a proponent for this more streamlined development. That has happened. Are you pleased with what you’ve seen so far?

Goldman: Yes. I think that what we need to do is slowly, gradually and organically build a destination. And you do it by these more programmatic things, like the lighter, quicker, cheaper stuff that Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has sponsored – many programs, cultural programs, historical and heritage programs that have brought … according to them, hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve created a destination, so now you can build on that, literally. Then you can start building more capital projects.

Meyer: But is this model that we’ve implemented going to bring some big fish?

Goldman: No, it will bring a lot of smaller fish – which is what a fisherman wants.

Meyer: We are sitting here at the Black Rock Kitchen and Bar on Amherst Street. … What made you decide to open [a business in Black Rock]?

Goldman: That relates to my whole notion of economic and community development. The best way to build for the future I really think is to build on the past – not on who you used to be in the sense of glory days – but rooting contemporary development in the history. And Black Rock is an area that, as many people know, is rooted in history. It’s older, in fact, than Buffalo. The people who are here now have a very, very strong sense of that past…

Meyer: Stuff is happening in this little pocket. You have some artisans who are doing things and other businesses. … Do you think this is a permanent revival of this neighborhood?

Goldman: What you need is people moving in. It can lead to more people moving in. … Let people in what’s becoming a very quickly overpriced Elmwood area realize that there’s a decent housing stock here. … Again, it’s sort of lighter, quicker, cheaper. Instead of spending a huge amount of money and political energy creating a big destination which may or may not work, you create a series of small ones – get people coming, talking about it and saying, “Hey, wow! I like it over here.”