I walked into Larkin Square in Buffalo, N.Y., and my senses were immediately overwhelmed. The smell of Thai food, BBQ and mac-and-cheese hit me like a wave; the sounds of the guitar, drums and oldies lyrics flooded my ears; my eyes were filled to the brim with the bright colors of the people, animals, and food trucks that filled the square.
After grabbing some wonderful pad Thai from the best-named truck, Thai Me Up, I snagged a spot in the bright, damp grass with the hundreds of other visitors and waited to learn why Buffalo was America’s best designed city.
Last Tuesday, October 1, John Paget of Paget Films premiered his newest creation “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City” in Larkin Square, Buffalo, NY at 7 p.m. The video featured sweeping views of Buffalo and interviews with many of the city’s leaders to tell the story of Buffalo’s planning, design, downfalls and revitalization. The video can be viewed at www.bestdesignedcity.com
One of the areas that are featured in the film is Larkinville, the exact spot where the film was being shown. It had been an industrial area of the city that became run down once the thriving industries of Buffalo withered. However, in the past couple of years, it has been greatly improved and is now one of the biggest growing areas of Buffalo, a perfect place to talk about the beauty and challenge of Buffalo.
Houghton College has been focusing efforts in Buffalo for the past few years through work with the King Center Charter School, Jericho Road Ministries, Wesley Service Corps, the 14th Street initiative, Journey’s End Tutoring and, most recently, the Houghton College City Semester, just to name a few. To show support for the outstanding changes taking place in Buffalo, Houghton College was proud to be a sponsor of “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City.”
Numerous Houghton College students, faculty and staff, alumni and supporters were present at the premiere to support Paget and his efforts to show Buffalo’s great assets. “Paget is a personal friend and I have appreciated and admired his work,” said Houghton College professor emeritus Dr. Charles Massey. “I have been anticipating the completion of this film since I first heard John share his vision about a year ago and was delighted that Houghton College chose to be one of the sponsors.”
Dr. Cameron Airhart, professor of history at Houghton College and a driving force behind the City Semester program attended the premiere. “This film is a small part of the broad, long-term effort, in which many people play a part, to revitalize metro Buffalo and create a vibrant economic, cultural and social urban center that allows diverse human lives to flourish,” Airhart said.
Margret Wenger, a Houghton College graduate of 2012 and current resident of Buffalo, said, “I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people at Larkin Square for the event. It was really exciting to watch the video that portrayed Buffalo so beautifully with so many others who call the city home.”
“People outside the city will be surprised at the beauty of the city and those inside will feel privileged to live here—I know I do,” Airhart said.
All three of these Houghton relations have chosen to make their home in Buffalo for various reasons.
For Wenger it was the opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Avenue Project through the Wesley Service Corps. She is now working with the Houghton College Office of Urban Connections. “The best part of living in this area is being a part of partnerships between people and organizations that make Buffalo a place where people live life well,” she said. “The film gives a sense of pride for the community in Buffalo. It will serve as an encouragement to efforts to continue making the city better.”
For Massey, Buffalo became an integral part of his life 24 years ago when he became involved in the effort to save the St. Mary of Sorrows church building from the wrecking ball. With the help of his wife, Claity and many others, Massey has now seen this building transformed into the King’s Center Charter School which now provides education to 312 students in Kindergarten through grade seven.
“After becoming involved with the effort, it didn't feel right to commute in from the suburbs,” Massey said. “Claity and I determined that we needed to move to the city in order to become more fully engaged. It is a decision we have never regretted.”
Proximity and diversity are the two best assets of living in Buffalo according to Massey. Along with the hundreds of music halls, theatres, ballparks and arenas, parks, shops and restaurants, Massey said that he has almost daily contact with refugees and immigrants from around the world. “I interact with persons of deep personal faith, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist and persons with no faith at all, and I hear half-a-dozen different languages spoken on my block,” he said. “One thing I don’t contend with is boredom.”
Airhart has lived on Buffalo’s west side for the past three years, in the community know as Elmwood Village. For him, the amenities, cultural opportunities and opportunities for personal and professional development are part of what makes Buffalo a great city, along with urban walkability and “an environment of cultural, social, and economic, intellectual and religious diversity.”
Massey expressed his excitement about Paget’s film saying that Buffalonians often miss all that is happening to make the city a great place. The film highlights many of these facets: seemingly unlimited fresh water, an incredibly rich history, unsurpassed architecture, an amazing array of higher education institutions, a bourgeoning arts community and ethnic and cultural diversity that rivals much larger cities.
“’Buffalo: America's Best Designed City’ reminds us of what we have going for us,” he said. “For the next few years, this film will be the new face of Buffalo.”
I too have a great stake in Buffalo as a thriving city. I was blessed to participate in the Houghton College City Semester in the spring of 2012. It was an opportunity that changed the way I thought about Buffalo, rust-belt cities, and cities in general.
I had a great chance to see the liveliness and beauty that Buffalo has to offer and am thrilled that Paget has been able to take those qualities and show others the wonderful potential that Buffalo holds. And, I am even more pleased to see all the work that Houghton is doing to further education and lives within Buffalo.
“I see Houghton's mission in Buffalo as one of providing service to the community while providing students the opportunity to learn from the city and its residents,” Wenger said.
"I would like to see more people come to appreciate Buffalo as a city with a great past and a promising future, a place where people are willing to admit their mistakes and work to correct them, and a place where young people with a little vision and caring hearts can find a place and make a difference,” said Massey.