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Sat Apr 7 2007 Rust Belt Ruckus: Inhabiting Industrial Collapse
Staring off of my porch toward the river I see dozens of buildings: dilapidated, sinking into the river, being demolished, and wasting away. I scan the horizon, and through the blizzard I see a huge city, a once bustling metropolis, now eerily silent. I look down my street, and on either side are vacancies; some in bad shape but the majority are inhabitable. I stand on the porch of the biggest one I could find and smile, and then I go back inside and stoke the fire. Life is good to me, and I feel invincible. There is an old Earth First! slogan that comes to mind: “visualize industrial collapse.” Not only can I visualize it by looking out the window, but I am living here—right smack dab in the midst of it—like a king.

The Great Lakes region is an economic phenomenon. In its heyday, the Rust Belt’s economic activity formed a significant sector of the American economy including manufacturing and the automobile industry. In 1900, Buffalo rivaled New York City as one of the country’s most populous cities. By the 1920s, with the steel industry at its peak and the Erie Canal opening up the Great Lakes to trade, Buffalo was bursting at the seams.

But when the Great Depression set in, the steel industry took a dive, setting the stage for the economic growth of other Great Lakes cities such as Cleveland, Chicago, and Milwaukee. Buffalo’s economy slowed and slowed as the bulk of industrial jobs disappeared to South America and Canada.

The population has been in steady decline since the 1950s. The infrastructure is in place for the functioning of a major city but it is so spread out and under-funded that this once ‘all American city’ is now the ideal reeding ground for squatters. Everything is abandoned everything is falling apart—and we are dancing in the ruins and making out like bandits.

There is a serious housing crisis here in Buffalo. PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) has estimated that there are 100,000 abandoned houses and 20,000 awaiting demolition. According to the Buffalo News, there is an overwhelming 40 percent vacancy stretching out to the suburbs where a ‘plague of vacancies’ is sickening an already hurting economy. Many of them are in limbo due to utilities lines and mortgages, and tens of thousands of houses are held as assets by private creditors such as our very own ex-governor George Pataki. In parts of our neighborhood, there are two or three un-maintained houses on every block. In fact, in 2003 the city issued a state of financial emergency and created the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority to handle the collapsing economy.

Taking What’s Ours, and the City Conceding

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