Goldman, Mark. City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900-Present.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Hovey, Bradshaw
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900-Present (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Goldman, Mark
Accession Number: 243797916
Full Text: Goldman, Mark.

City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900-Present.

Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007.

423 pp.

ISBN: 9781591024576.

City on the Edge is Mark Goldman's third book on Buffalo's history and his most hopeful treatment of that city's experience of decline. Indeed, it is Goldman's interest in that downward trajectory and what to do about it that links the three books.

High Hopes (1983) (4) covered the full sweep of the city's history, from its founding in the early 19th century through its development as a commercial entrepor, to a center of heavy industry, and to its catastrophic decline in the early post-industrial era. City on the Lake (1990) (5) zeroed in on the period after the Second World War and the community's struggles to come to grips with the interlocking dynamics of suburbanization, the rise of the automobile, racial migration and conflict, central city disinvestment, and finally the end of three quarters of a century of industrial prosperity.

City on the Edge overlaps--one must say oddly--with the two previous volumes, covering as it does the period from Buffalo's zenith as an urban center at the time of the Pan American Exposition in 1901 to the beginning of the 21st century. Goldman organizes the book roughly by decades, and each chapter treats a series of topics: broad economic conditions, urban planning and policy, and the politics of the city.

Goldman also deals with two themes less familiar in city histories: the artistic and cultural development of the city and the history of the local public education system, the latter of which is of interest because of Buffalo's ground-breaking efforts to engineer a solution to segregated schools. Yet it is the history of art in Buffalo that is really a delight, from Seymour H. Knox's curatorial genius as a patron of modern art and the embrace by others of the avant garde in mid-20th century music, to the assembly of University at Buffalo's famous poetry collection and the acquisition of the James Joyce papers, to the life of the University's legendary English Department (Barth, Fiedler, Creeley, and others).

Otherwise, Goldman hammers away on Buffalo's obvious failures in urban planning and development from the early hollowing out of downtown to make room for the automobile and the expansion of the highway network at the expense of priceless Olmsted Parks, to the siting of a new university campus in a swampy suburb and the forlorn attempts from the Urban Renewal era forward to somehow demolish and build a way out of decline.

However, Goldman shows little interest in either a substantive analysis of the roots of Buffalo's economic predicament or the way forward. Factories shut down and moved away; that's all we know. As for the future, concepts of the new economy, creative class, and globalization are absent. Instead, Goldman moves from an appropriate critique of big-project redevelopment--"silver bullets" in local parlance--to a rhapsody about the power of community gardens, historic preservation, spontaneous redevelopment, and other grassroots initiatives. All of these things have made a positive impact on the city, but Goldman generally ignores the potential of developments in health care, high technology, and higher education to create a new era of prosperity. The power of place is important, as he argues, bur so is a city's place in relation to the economic power of the age.

Likewise, Goldman has no theoretical interest in the dysfunction of local politics. All the failures of recent Mayors were apparently personal ones. Thus, there is no prescription for a fundamental remedy to a political culture which most Buffalonians would agree has failed. Goldman is interested in citizenship but its practice doesn't seem to include the ballot box.

Otherwise, a reader familiar with Buffalo and its history will be unnerved by the frequency with which Goldman misspells names and mangles chronologies. For academic and intellectual rigor more generally, the two earlier books are to be preferred. Yet City on the Edge contains material that the reader is unlikely to find elsewhere, on the flowering of the arts in Buffalo and the more recent neighborhood renaissance.

(4) Goldman, Mark. (1983). High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York. Albany: SUNY.

(5) Goldman, Mark. (1990). City on the Lake: the Challenge of Change in Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Bradshaw Hovey, Associate Director of the Urban Design Project School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
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