13 November 2014

going to Buffalo, again

The VRA Upstate New York Chapter called a meeting for Thursday, November 13, in Buffalo. It was pretty exciting to get a notice about a planning lecture on the preceding Wednesday night by Emily Talen, with the topic "Walkable Diversity: Chasing an Elusive Planning Goal." The meeting got cancelled because not enough people registered but I decided to come up to Buffalo anyway for the lecture and to see a show at the UB Anderson Gallery.

The lecture was fine even though Talen admitted she was preaching to the choir about making cities walkable because that made them more environmentally benign, safe, beautiful, and diverse. She had originally called her talk "Neighborhood Diversity" but decided neighborhood was too complicated. Besides, she's working on a book on neighborhood and recognizes that diversity is meaningless without neighborhood, and vice versa. Strangers are important to a lively diversity. This talk came one day after an Alfred Village Board meeting with discussion of changes to the zoning code. Talen talked about the downside of zoning since it often codifies things that work against diversity, e.g., type of business, size of buildings. We don't necessarily all want to be zoning-free Houston but walkability is significantly enhanced by variety. Fortunately, form-based zoning is coming down the pike and we've been talking about it on the Alfred Village Planning Board. As an aside, Talen mentioned that students are good for street safety because they keep all hours and therefore provide pedestrian traffic pretty much around the clock. In a small college town like Alfred, student housing is a regular topic. Talen has great hope for community land trusts and using big data to strategize how to spend on urban development. For example, she and some colleagues got a grant from HUD to study location of public housing and found that 71% of public housing is in unwalkable areas; she argued for building more walkability into areas with affordable housing and vice versa.

As I walked back to my car, I was reminded of another aspect of walkability. Pedestrians have a fair shot in New York City. They might not survive a crash with a car, truck, or bus but they are respected in the City, at least in Manhattan. Cars stop before the crosswalk. No right turns on red. After the lecture, I saw two drivers doing mighty me-first actions. I was crossing Main Street near the South Campus of UB. A driver on Main Street went way through the crosswalk I was using, sucking on her Big Slurpy, ready to turn right on red, glanced at me and did her right turn anyway. I got to the other curb after she'd turned and a car came up Niagara Falls Boulevard and accelerated into the yellow light past a stopped car in the curb lane in order to make a left turn onto Main Street. Cars, actually drivers, need to be more respectful. That's my second amendment slogan: cars don't kill pedestrians, drivers do.

Today was art day. I started at the "Art = Text = Art: Private Languages, Public Systems" show at the UB Anderson Gallery. Mostly 1960s and 1970s work by folks such as Rauschenberg, Johns, Jess, Joe Brainard, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and William Anastasi. Also later stuff including a provocative "Constitution" (2004) by Annabel Daon in which she phonetically transliterated the U.S. Constitution into Arabic. Susanna Harwood Rubin is represented by "102 rue Haussmann," in which Proust's address is subtly drawn in a field of graphite. I also liked "Die Welt" by Ellsworth Kelly in which his normal color shapes replace the image portion of pages of the German newspaper. The installation was really inspired. Lots of queer content too.

Then over to the Albright Knox Art Gallery for some Helen Frankenthaler and Joe Feeley. The Frankenthalers were lovely. And another quick round through the printed works from the 1970s in the wonderful hemicycle gallery. Across the street to the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The Marion Faller photographs were OK but they were installing a show on Alexander O. Levy that looks really interesting. Thank heavens I don't need much excuse to make a trip to Buffalo.

After the galleries, I went down to India Gate and had some Indian buffet and then drove down to Allen Street. I walked around some streets that I haven't been on before even though with light snow falling, it wasn't a particularly commodious day for strolling or picture taking. When I was almost back to the car, I discovered that I was near Rust Belt Books, a pretty good used bookstore ... so I checked it out, escaping without any purchases. Part of me would love to travel light through life, just a suitcase or two. A bigger part of me knows the hardest part of that would be parting with books, even the ones I know are pretty readily available at some library.

Back in the car. I wanted to see what the East Side looks like. I keep hearing or reading that it's the poorer and more devastated part of town. Still, it amazed me how quickly the vacant lots and potholes multiplied as I went out Broadway from downtown. Amenities that make for a walkable area were few and far between.

After a breather at the Motel 6, I went up to Barnes & Noble on Transit Road. I asked the clerk if they had Why civil resistance works: the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict by Erica Chenoweth. No but she quietly mentioned a new bookstore Burning Books which specializes in political items. Something more to check out before I head back to Alfred. The reason I wanted to see the Chenoweth book is that she was being interviewed as I drove up to Buffalo but that station (WSKG) got out of range just as she was explaining how she, a security studies doctoral student, got into civil resistance and nonviolence.

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