Power Failure: Politics, Patronage, and the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York

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At the turn of the 20th century, Buffalo, NY, was one of the world’s great industrial cities. In 1901, it played host to the prestigious Pan American Exhibition, which attracted millions of visitors to the city; its thriving downtown area was graced by buildings and mansions designed by some of the country’s best architects; the city was the third largest producer of steel and, with the largest inland port, was a hub of commerce at the end of the Erie Canal.
Today, due to ...

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Power Failure: Politics, Patronage, And the Economic Future of Buffalo, New York

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At the turn of the 20th century, Buffalo, NY, was one of the world’s great industrial cities. In 1901, it played host to the prestigious Pan American Exhibition, which attracted millions of visitors to the city; its thriving downtown area was graced by buildings and mansions designed by some of the country’s best architects; the city was the third largest producer of steel and, with the largest inland port, was a hub of commerce at the end of the Erie Canal.
Today, due to financial distress and decades of mismanagement, the city has been put under the supervision of a financial control board. Population drain and an inability to attract new business have brought the city to the brink of financial collapse. The question on everyone’s lips is, "What went wrong?"
Community development expert and Buffalo native Diana Dillaway analyzes the history of planning and decision making in Buffalo that led to the current malaise. A member of the Wendt family, whose great grandfather founded one of Buffalo’s oldest manufacturing businesses, Dillaway has used her access to the city’s most powerful political, economic, and community leaders to reconstruct the factors that created the city as it exists today. She examines the most divisive debates of the past, including strategies for downtown and neighborhood development, planning for a rapid transit system, and battles over the location of a proposed university campus and a professional football stadium.
A consistent theme is the protection of the status quo and turf battles among the WASP business and financial elite, ethnic Catholic communities centered on neighborhood parish life, and the Democratic machine with its entrenched patronage system. She finds that the only people interested in change were African Americans, whose efforts were consistently thwarted by a multi-term mayor who diverted community development funds for his own pet projects.
At a time when Buffalo is trying to build a brighter future, Dillaway’s insights, revelations, and prescriptions for change comprise urgent reading for community leaders and citizens alike. Power Failure speaks to issues of leadership and power facing every city and local government today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Diana Dillaway has meticulously set out the causes - economic and social - of the decline of Buffalo, N.Y., once the fastest growing and most promising city in the nation. Slowly eating away at Buffalo's vitality were economic forces beyond the community's control, and social and class conflicts that were clearly within the town's ability to remedy.... This compact volume is must reading for any North American student of urban history. It ought to be in every school and college library in Upstate New York. There ought to be forums and college level courses built around this study in Western New York."
Washington Bureau Chief, Buffalo News

"This book provides a rare inside look at the machinations and power plays by elite banking and development interests whose focus on narrow self-interest contributed to the decline of a once-thriving major city. We are seldom able to hear these stories in the clear and graphic fashion they are presented here."
Research Professor in Sociology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Publishers Weekly
Buffalo native and community development expert Dillaway chronicles the sad story of Buffalo's decline from vibrant American port and industrial center to rust belt poster child. She lays the blame firmly at the feet of the city's white Protestant business elite, an old guard who, she claims, mismanaged the city because of their arrogance, bad judgment, racism, overconfidence and infatuation with their own power. The book tells of how beginning in the 1960s, this cabal refused to cooperate, with the rest of Buffalo's citizenry to adapt to changing economic and cultural conditions, such as the declining steel industry and the spreading Civil Rights movement. Missed opportunities to revitalize the city abound, including the failure to develop a light rail system and the equally shortsighted decision to reject the building of a new State University of New York campus in the downtown district. Strangely, Dillard rarely names those she is accusing, preferring to refer to them generically as, for instance, "one banker." As a result, this treatise is antiseptic and rarely humanized, an irony given the very human sources of the decay she cites. Although Buffalo's story is a powerful cautionary tale of the dangers that can accompany valuing turf and power over a city's well-being, the dry, case-study approach is most likely to appeal to city planners, academics and Buffalo residents. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591024002
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 230
  • Product dimensions: 5.63 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Diana Dillaway (Ventura, CA), now a freelance writer, has worked for more than thirty years on urban and community development with nonprofit groups including the San Jose Development Corporation, the Foundation for National Progress, the Center for Business and Environmental Studies at California State University at Hayward, and the Local Government Commission (Sacramento) where she wrote "Capturing the Local Economic Benefit of Recycling" for local governments.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    The truth of the economic collapse began long ago when the St. L

    The truth of the economic collapse began long ago when the St. Lawrence Seaway was constructed, opening shipping lanes that bi-passed Buffalo...prior, all commercial vessels had towed grain and precious metals by means of the Erie Canal. The remnants of the boom remain today just outside of Buffalo in some of the largest grain bins ever seen in modern history. Buffalo was a metropolis then...and has been on a steady decline since. Tourism is now the staple-source for WNY economy and Niagara Falls failed to remain an icon in this industry. It's thriving on the Canadian side, yet the American side of the Falls is at least 10 years behind, thanks to heavy taxation, etc. Keep in mind, Buffalo was also the center of the hydro-power evolution behind the genius of Nicoli Tesla....the power plant at the base of the American Falls was his project and propelled the usage of Alternating Current (AC) as used today. A lot of history and today, it's a crumbling mess instead of a museum. WNY has missed on opportunity...it may be too late and industry is moving out via Bousch and Lomb, as well as the Kodak example years ago. BTW....Fracking is not the answer. The clean-up will cost the taxpayer far more than the compensation the industry promises...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Lucky me.

    I get to live here. Woo hoo.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Regional gem?

    This is a fantastic book for anyone wondering "why does western new york lag economically?"; diana dillaway has written the definitive tome, and i'm not sure anyone else could have. being an urban planner and someone with unique connections to the power elite of buffalo for the last 40 years, she may be the only person with the authority to provide this insight.

    this may have regional appeal, but that means at least 1 million WNY'ers should be buying this book and studying it. the downside is many of the actors in this saga are still alive and well, and should probably face a torch-carrying mob when readers learn all of wny's sins are self-inflicted by a very few people with their own narrow interests.

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