For a spiritually depressed person, he or she needs to go back to where they came from in order to reignite their fire. Imagine, for instance, the moment you were baptized, or “saved,” or whatever it is you experienced that brought you new life…the same goes for cities. What made a once great city great? And can people go back to where the greatness started in order to catch the spirit once again?
Buffalo had its heyday many moons ago, when its hulking grain elevators helped elevate it to one of America’s Top 10 cities in terms of wealth and population. Buffalo’s grain elevators were effectively the middleman between farmers and people who needed to eat—so, in a big way, Buffalo helped feed America and its growth. With the grain elevators, trains, and a strategic location between New York City and Chicago, Buffalo was quite the hub of activity for many, many decades. After the 1950s, though, when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened, and trucking became more popular than boats and trains, slowly but surely Buffalo’s grain elevators went from bustling to idle. Couple that with the loss of Bethlehem Steel, another giant employer which helped build and grow America, and Buffalo became a sad shell of its former self. In essence, its light grew dim. The city lost faith and hope, mired in a long, painful depression.
However, something has been happening in Buffalo, New York, as of late that seems to signal a renaissance—a spiritual rebirth, if you will. The government is somewhat involved—ideally by getting out of the everyman’s way—while the creative thinkers, musicians, artists and doers are paving the way for Buffalo’s dramatic, intriguing and all together unexpected new life. Depressed Buffalo? Not so much anymore.
“City of Night,” the brainchild of the Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo, comes from young, civic-minded people like Dana Saylor and her group of fellow Buffalo believers who came up with something as out-of-the-box as could be: having a one-night sight-and-sound art experience on the grounds of—and inside, no less—Buffalo’s old grain elevators.
Most Buffalonians had never stepped foot onto the grain elevator property until “City of Night,” let alone had the awesome experience of going inside these gigantic, tall structures, standing in cement rooms once filled with grain.
The area, affectionately now referred to as “Silo City,” had largely been abandoned and as ugly as urban decay could be–not just for a couple years, but for generations. The grain elevators were and are a symbol of Buffalo, New York. Left to rot and die, they almost did. But then people with vision said, “You know, what if…”
“City of Night 2014” was like an eclectic cross between “Burning Man,” “Woodstock,” the “Erie County Fair,” “Disney World,” “Coney Island,” and the coolest party you could ever attend… Artists, musicians, dancers, merchants, food trucks, and some 15,000 or so guests came together for quite “the happening.” This was not a down-and-out Buffalo. This was a sure sign of Buffalo’s rebirth.
When hundreds gathered at the edge of the Buffalo River to release fire-burning lanterns into the nighttime sky, it symbolized lighting the flame of Buffalo once again. What had grown dim was—and is—now rekindled, literally looking upward for brighter days ahead and a better future for a city well worth saving.
You feel it in the air in Buffalo these days. The city is far from perfect, but for the first time in anyone’s memory—even the elderly—there are several large cranes dotting the downtown skyline. For other cities, cranes are the norm. For Buffalo, cranes and “City of Night,” and newly developed areas like “Canalside” and “Larkin Square” all point to one thing: a new Buffalo, re-purposed for a new century, ready for new growth, and fundamentally ready for new ideas by new people instead of entrenched in the old ways of nothing positive ever getting done. What an amazing time to be living in Buffalo, NY!
Hats off to City of Night’s Dana Saylor and her crew of Buffalo believers, from the people who drove the shuttle buses, to the volunteers who strapped admission bracelets onto visitors, and those who dressed up in costumes to entertain, as well as those who coordinated this truly one-of-a-kind, magnificent celebration of what makes Buffalo a place people want to be. It’s time the world re:think’s Buffalo. “City of Night” is a perfect example of visionaries coming together to help transform a city. The Buffalo you thought you knew is not the same Buffalo it is now becoming. Visit and see for yourself. –Mark Weber, BeautifulBuffalo.com