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Joan Wickett: It’s encouraging to see Buffalo’s renaissance

It was a wonderful time to be alive in Buffalo! As I researched my grandmother’s life, I learned more about life in the early 20th century. I almost envied her the opportunity to be part of the excitement and wonder of the time.

Buffalo was a thriving city. Newly illuminated with the electric potential of the falls, the Pan- American Exposition gave it international acclaim. The city was bustling with a growing banking industry, numerous local breweries and an emerging automotive industry spearheaded by the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. Beautified by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the landscaping genius of Frederick Law Olmsted, steel mills and rail expansions fueled its industrial explosion.

Buffalo’s location on the shipping lanes of the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal, and its growing grain industry, made it the envy of the nation. As the city’s population swelled, Shea’s and other theaters, museums, the Botanical Gardens and the Buffalo Zoo offered hours of leisure and enjoyment. The city became one of the leading cultural centers in the nation.

As I reflected on the opportunities offered my grandmother’s generation, I noticed the parallel of the opportunities for today’s generation. Talking with my grandsons, employed in the city, I was impressed with their vision of Buffalo, its bustling new industries, job opportunities, restaurants, thriving Theater District and growing social and night life. Our waterfront has become a tourist attraction with both summer and winter activities.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the medical campus are nationally known. The Larkin complex, with its increasing technical and business opportunities, is the nucleus of a growing economy. Our Buffalo Philharmonic is internationally esteemed. Our colleges are treasure troves of talent and knowledge. The new owners of our two major sports teams offer renewed hope of restored glory and fame. Our young people are choosing to remain in Buffalo and establish their life and future here. Perhaps this, at last, is the new Golden Age of Buffalo.

Yes, we have problems. The city streets I walked as a child are now in distress. Many of our neighborhoods show the scars of neglect and poverty. The media remind us daily of criminal activity. Poverty and unemployment are our undeniable companions. There are racial, ethnic and religious tensions that seem insurmountable. To some, the city may seem lost.

Yet my grandmother’s day had similar problems. She was ostracized for marrying outside her nationality (Polish girls did not socialize with German boys). Their union not only survived but flourished into a family that enjoyed the best of both nationalities.

There were racial and religious taboos at that time, also. Bullies prowled the streets asserting their territorial rights. The desperate poor came from Europe and struggled until employment and education were achieved. Somehow, the differences evaporated in the common goal of survival.

Obviously, we have much to accomplish in Buffalo’s rebirth, but we have a very strong beginning. There is no magic potion or plan that can eliminate poverty and unemployment. Plans to bring more industry into the area and revitalize our schools offer real hope. We are aware of our shortcomings, but as in my grandmother’s age, the opportunities outweigh the problems.

I envy the new generation that will help to make this another Golden Age.