Is Tide Starting to Turn Along the Waterfront?

June 29, 2008

Buffalo WaterfrontThat’s a news article headline that we’ve seen here, what, 10 or 20 times in the past generation?  It seems like the Waterfront is about to turn the corner every year or so.  Years ago the downtown football stadium was going to do the trick; that was followed with other schemes including, today, Bass Pro, Canal Side, the Casino and the Commercial Slip.

So I was a little surprised when I saw the headline yet again “Is Tide Starting to Trun Along the Waterfront?” Did you see the article?

Probably not.  It was an article in the City and Region section of the Boston Globe, and it was about Boston’s Waterfront.  You know, that city in the Northeast to which just about every other city is compared – growth, economy, sports, business, wealth, stability, high-tech and other categories I can’t remember.  They’ve been working on the waterfront for something like 40 years, and there are still sections that just aren’t blossoming as expected.

They came seeking harbor views, fresh, open spaces, and the thrill of watching Boston’s final new neighborhood rise up around them.

But they’re still waiting for the crowd to follow.

The article is actually pretty upbeat:  After years of neglect (“as a wind-blown wasteland”) growth in this section of the Boston waterfront is finally starting.  But unlike Buffalo, which seems to demand instant growth and instant gratification, this development is long-term:

“I have learned over the years that you have to work with the market,” said Kairos Shen, chief planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, who expects the waterfront’s develoment to continue through the year 2040.  “The market went away.  I think that people need to be patient.”

There’s a lesson here for us.  Maybe we should give them a call and ask them what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong.


Cutting Someone Loose

June 23, 2008

You\'re FiredI hate firing people.

As necessary as it sometimes is for the sake of both the employer and employee to part ways it is never easy nor fun.  I abhor that part of my job.

My former employee and I will both go home tonight lost in thought.

Paul and the Romans

June 22, 2008

The Catholic church needs to dumb it down a little. Just a little. Okay, maybe a lot.

As much as I love the Mass and some of the tradition that goes along with it, the Vatican II Council made a big mistake when it opted for the vernacular to bring the Mass to the people. It should also have offered explanations.

Explanations for the readings prior to each reading, so that people would know what the readings were really about.

Take this Sunday’s second reading, from Paul to the Romans. On a difficulty scale of one to ten this reading is a twelve, with a sentence structure so foreign (read: ungrammatical) that it is impossible to decipher by just listening to it. The congregation’s eyes collectively glazed over. I should know. I was the lector reading it to them, and I studied it hard to get the inflection and oratory as meaningful as possible.

So what was the point? It would only take an additional 60 seconds to provide an explanation of the context and meaning of the reading so that the congregation would more fully grasp what the reading was about. I wanted to do this; our priest basically (but nicely) said no.

And before chiding me by claiming that if one really wanted to get more out of the reading that they would study it beforehand, I say that obligations aside, the Church teaches us to be all-embracing, not elitist. There are many, myself included, who need and want an explanation of the more difficult passages of the Bible, and Paul’s letters happen to be almost entirely of that nature.

If the Church is going to continue feeding us snippets, it needs to provide us with context for that snippet.  Otherwise, we won’t fully appreciate the meaning.

Calvin and Hobbes

June 21, 2008

I stumbled on this while Stumbling.

Calvin and Hobbes was a most endearing, satisfying comic strip, and it still is today.  Maybe because I could relate to Calvin’s curiosity cum trouble-making ability, or maybe just because it was timelessly funny, my life lost a little something when Bill Watterson retired this strip in 1995.

This comic has been gone longer than it was in existence.  I still laugh out loud when I re-read it.

Ice on Mars

June 20, 2008

Ice on MarsThe Mars Phoenix Explorer, which landed on Mars about a month ago, has been digging little trenches here and there as a prelude to digging a bigger trench later.

One purpose of this space mission was to determine if water ice is present just under the planet’s surface.  The presence of water of any type is a vital clue to determining if life similar to what we are familiar with could have, did, or still does exist on Mars.  In the face of some revealing articles today, it appears that there is ice just under the surface where Phoenix landed.

Even though these robotic missions are extremely expensive ($520 million, not quite as much as as, say, questionable war funding but expensive nonetheless) they provide insights into very fundamental questions about how life takes hold.

This mission has only begun to reveal surprises to us.

BTEC 2008

June 20, 2008

BTECThe Buffalo Technology Enterpreneurs Conference is next Friday, June 27th at the Statler Ballroom.  If you have any interest in finding out why Buffalo will not become a deserted ghost town in another generation, show your face and talk to some of the technology companies that are springing up in the area.

Many of the startups with which I’m familiar became startups in spite of politics, state regulations and the upstate economy.  They did so because

  • Western New York is a great place to build relationships
  • Western New York is a great place to raise a family
  • Western New York is a great place to live.

With the death of heavy industry and the aging (and departure) of the blue-collar employees that grew up with it, the Buffalo area has been evolving into a more opportunistic community and the rapidity by which Buffalo’s small business community has quietly grown and diversified in the past decade is remarkable.  One obvious result is that recessionary impact is less today (and in 2001) than it was, say, in 1988-89.  A national downturn in specific market niches has less overall impact locally because our economy is no longer largely dependent on that single niche.  Manufacturing might have been the key to our greatness in the 50s and 60s, but dependence on it led to our downfall by the 80s.  The business elements that make up our local economy today are collectively much more immune to changes in business climate and more capable of turning on a dime with the inevitable economic swings.

For years our community has stubbornly clung to the 1950’s and far too many people – from political leaders to everyday Joes on the street – still resist the changes that will make this area great.  That attitude is slowly and finally giving way to understanding that entrepreneurial success is within anyone’s grasp.

So go to the show.  You’ll learn a lot about where we’re heading and how we’ll get there.

Dump the Pump

June 19, 2008

old gas pumpToday is “Dump the Pump” day, advertised throughout the nation as the day we should all try to take mass transit to work. I heard about it on the radio while I was filling my tank at the gas station, how ironic. The fillup cost me $65 and will last less than a week. I do not own a big car. It gets around 27 city, 32 highway.

But I live a good distance from my job, and that job demands non-regular hours. It will never be 9-5 so I drive alone, daily, like 85% of all other commuters in Western New York.

Aside from downsizing to an even smaller vehicle my wife and I have taken great pains to reduce our carbon footprint – something Dick Cheney might call a personal virtue but what we consider to be absolutely essentially for sustained future growth. Since 1997 we successfully cut our natural gas consumption by 60% and this past winter saved about $1,000 in the process. Our largest gas bill was $110. I have not taken the time to track our electricity consumption but I am quite sure that it too is significantly less than what it was just a few years ago.

It has not crimped our lifestyle.

Conservation is, however, all about habits, about changing the little things: Turning off the lights when you leave a room, sleeping with an extra blanket, caulking the windows, wearing sweaters, and being especially conscious of how you are using and wasting energy.

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas may have one saving grace: It may force all of us to make energy conservation a personal virtue.