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Gentrification in Buffalo

Don't write off the entire Rust Belt. Every neighborhood has its own story to tell.
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Buffalo, New York, in bloom. (PHOTO: DRAGONFIRE1024/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Buffalo, New York, in bloom. (PHOTO: DRAGONFIRE1024/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Portland is dying. Buffalo is gentrifying. We live in interesting times:

"This is much more though a forced migration that is coming and I think that is the tone that has really upset the neighborhood," said Ricardo Herrera, executive director of the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers.

The Rust Belt is full of Detroits. The Sun Belt is full of Houstons. What is wrong with the Rust Belt? What is right with the Sun Belt? That's about the extent of our policy geography. The scale of analysis is too coarse. Mesofacts muddle the picture.

I advocate for pulling apart the Rust Belt, revealing the variation within the megaregion. However, even that finer grain may not be sufficient. New research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland takes a closer look at a small group of Rust Belt cities:

This Commentary describes the reverse gentrification process and its consequences in four cities—Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh—from 1970 to 2006. While reverse gentrification occurred to some degree in all four cities, there are distinct differences across them. In addition, to show how neighborhood dynamics in the central city influence the surrounding suburbs, the Cleveland-Akron metropolitan area is explored more closely, focusing on changes in the inner-ring and outer-ring suburbs.

Buffalo and Pittsburgh trend together, with some neighborhoods gentrifying. Cleveland and Detroit trend together, with "reverse gentrification" dominant. There are parts of Pittsburgh more like Cleveland and Detroit than the gentrifying neighborhoods of Buffalo. According to the Fed, higher education institutions inform gentrification of nearby neighborhoods.

Which brings this post back to Buffalo and the above story about "forced migration" from the neighborhoods around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. "Buffalo gentrification" is an oxymoron.  It's also real, close to the centers of talent production. We should pay more attention to this emerging economic geography hidden in the stereotypical Rust Belt.