A road trip from Buffalo to KCMO and back!

I had the extreme pleasure of keynoting the Historic Kansas City  Old Home Week Preservation Conference this past week!

Instead of flying, Drew and I drove my awesome new orange Subaru XV – spending six days on the road visiting all kinds of cities and friends along the way! We were fueled by random stops for biscuits, ice cream and coffee… we slept in the coolest places including a DIY style loft in downtown STL, in a tiny shotgun style brick house in Louisville, a historic inn in KCMO owned by two super sweet guys and a random airbnb with two cool cats… and we had the chance to meet up with preservationists across the rust belt including Sarah Marsom from Columbus, Michael Allen from STL and Kristine / Amanda / Julie and the rest of the KCMO crew.

About KCMO: With 20,000 people living downtown, a rich history of food and music and a brand new street car starter line rail system, KCMO is a pretty cool city! Kansas City is home to the sweet heat BBQ sauce that everyone loves. They also have shuttle cocks on the lawn of their art museum, an iconic historic plaza built by Nichols (who is also responsible for establishing red lining across America – ugh!), and a cornucopia of incredible parks and parkways laid out by Kessler – all which are extremely vast and well maintained. The KCMO architectural claim to fame may be the “shirt waist” style house that features local limestone on the porch and another 1.5 story above it (second floor and attic).

The KCMO preservation community was all up in arms about Nelle Peters, a grouping of historic tudor style apartment buildings right near the plaza. As you can guess, the owner was demolishing them without a plan. Everyone wanted them saved and I worked with the community to get a petition, heart bombs and Facebook group started… but I am extremely sad to report that I found out today that they have begun tearing them down. KCMO, I am very heartbroken for you tonight.

On a personal level, Drew and I had some great heart to heart conversations, listened to a ton of podcasts and some our favorite bands we listed to were Neon Indian, Tame Impala, Youth Lagoon, Mac Demarco and Tyco. Our trip cost less than two plane tickets, the lowest gas price we paid was $1.38 a gallon and Drew was going nuts over the mid western water towers. We want to badly go back to Louisville, too… it is like an older, slightly more hip Buffalo. I was thrilled to spend some quality time up with my Uncle Norman and Aunt Pauline in KCMO – they came to see me speak!! STL seemed to be our favorite stop – the arch was amazing and we had a delicious breakfast at the Mud House in the Cherokee Historic district! We had a ton of fun!

That wraps it all up!!




How Buffalo Get a Warhol? Reflections on a Postmodern City… By Craig Reynolds

Warning: I did not write this. The author passed away last year but I wanted to share a piece of Buffalo history that is worth reading, worth thinking about and something you’ll never find in print. It is the beautiful, haunting and gritty description of the “old” Buffalo that many of us fell in love with (or hated). Read it… it’s worth every second.

How Buffalo Get a Warhol? Reflections on a Postmodern City

By Craig Reynolds ,  from Basta! v1n1 (spring 1997)

THE ARGUMENT: Buffalo provides a challenge, not a legacy; it taunts the uninspired until they flee to a city where legacy’s flow will carry them along, like New York, San Francisco or Seattle. Buffalo requires a substantial commitment, like that of a drowning man to his condition. In Buffalo, we wrestle with God, Job’s God, and the fact of being is enough.

I begin to understand this after asking my 2 friends visiting from Seattle how they like the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the first stop in my weekend tour of Buffalo’s monuments to greatness. Pointing at Andy Warhol’s 100 Cans, they ask, “how Buffalo get a Warhol?” making me realize: 1) my friends aren’t exactly Peggy Guggenheims, but that’s perfectly a–okay; and 2) even after enjoying firsthand some of the greatest paintings anywhere, the misconception that Buffalo couldn’t possibly be significant remains even still.

It is a Saturday morning late in the football season and the museum is relatively empty, so one guest poses the inevitable question, “where is everybody?”––but rather than waste energy answering it, we who are not somewhere else do what we always do when queries like that arise: lean forward as far as we can without stubbing our noses on cold marble or bronze or drooling all over the paintings we risque absurdity to love, muttering under our breaths: “my God . . .”


A few hours later, after a quick architectural tour beginning on the gallery’s rear steps and ending downtown, we wind up at the waterfront, where we enjoy the cacophony of winds whistling through the car’s window casings. Naturally, being downtown, there’s no–one around . . .

Except a pack of wild dogs . . .

Wrestling savagely beside an over–turned garbage can on the corner of Erie and Lakefront Boulevards.

I go absolutely nuts to myself realizing I live in a city where wild dogs roam the streets, where the only activity is the impossible action of postmodern comic strips and outlandish science–fiction fantasies. I explode with delight realizing just how primal things have become, how ugly, how real.

Society has no claim on Buffalo anymore. We’re alone and that’s happy. We’re all gonna die and that’s happy. The empty storefronts that line Main Street dot sentences that ceased being written in earnest decades ago (anybody who writes them still invites the cancer that threatens to devour America). Buffalo is a grand Dadaist joke played on the American dream. What to do now is anybody’s guess––

My friends and I drive off wildly into the tangled maze of industrial nothing and bliss. “Not much happening here!” I shout and take a robust pride in its being true.

1.3 million people live in the greater–Buffalo area and all I see is not much happening here. I see empty factories overlooking empty lakes and rivers. I see empty streets leading nowhere but to other empty streets, empty parking lots in the shadows of empty churches.

Buffalo is the most spiritually evolved city in America. Like Christ, we have sacrificed everything for a better line on the suffering we always sensed was the only truth. In Buffalo, it’s man against God. Leaving your house mid–January is a Grecian odyssey all in itself––.


Soon enough, my friends begin to enjoy the sense of release our inevitable expiration arouses––

We drive on, past half–full warehouses and factories pumping loose, disjointed rhythms into the vast, inhuman night.

We drive on, through the staggering corpses of unused grain elevators, pure surrealist monuments to nothing.

We drive on, past windowless bars where solitary patrons try to trap oblivion in the bottoms of their beer glasses, but never succeed (oblivion).

We drive on, alongside vestigial railroad lines but tonsils were always my favorite body part so who am I to complain?

We drive on, past the leftover remains of Bethlehem Steel’s old headquarters, a creepy mansion on the hills only it’s all alone on the banks of Lake Erie and the dirt is deep like on the buildings in Paris.

We drive on, past the dilapidated cruise ship imported extra–special from Cleveland to collect spiders and rats on the polluted shores of eastern Lake Erie, also creepy.

We drive on––

We drive on––

Until we reach Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica and the trumpets begin to sound. And the angels on its rooftops sing: “everything you ever thought was true is wrong!”

Five minutes later we are standing dumbstruck in the center of the cathedral’s magnificent atrium, where the walls and ceiling exude the strange inner light the images painted on them ache to depict. Everybody in our group is amazed, silently gaping with eyes large like the black hole that is Buffalo.

“What is a beautiful, amazing place like this doing in Lackawanna?” my one friend asks.

Our Lady of Victory is a typical Buffalo achievement in so far as there’s absolutely no reason why it should exist . . . but it does . . . just like Buffalo does . . . and the reason why is that Father Baker had a vision and committed himself wholeheartedly to its fulfillment. Buffalo is ripe with enigmas and why here?s––and the answer always comes back “because” (Buffalo precedes all rational explanations). There is a fine line between something and nothing and Buffalo manages to walk it straight despite the large quantities of alcohol it consumed in hopes of blurring that line just a little wider. Unlike other cities, where it’s easy to sink into the flow of everything’s fine, in Buffalo, you must be a prophet or drown in utter mediocrity. Buffalo demands existential authenticity, and the rock we push up the hill (only to have it roll back down over us time and time again) is our only salvation. Like Rimbaud in the gutters and back–alleys of Paris, in Buffalo, you have no choice but to remake life; there’s no bullshit left to buy, no palace gates to hide behind (I endure Siddhartha Gautama’s 4 passing sights whenever I walk out my front door). Buffalo is the most advanced city in America; we progressed beyond progress. Our truth is grounded on an intense understanding of everything that is false (or an intense understanding that everything is false). We don’t need to realize the ultimate insignificance of the world; our world realizes it for us. Not only does Buffalo’s faded, tattered industrial landscape prefigure a dawning, postmodern art and architecture, it augers a new way of being. I mark in every face I pass marks of weakness, marks of woe––the sane, saintly sufferings of Christ. In Buffalo, we have exhausted all the tired cliches of American culture, but who needs them anyway? I’d rather run with wild dogs through silent streets than jump from old mall to new mall hopelessly fleeing my own inevitable collapse.

It doesn’t vex me that the world has abandoned Buffalo to the cold, hard night of passing time, impermanence and irrelevance; it just means I have an art gallery of incalculable merit all to myself, a downtown whose jewels were left for me to reap, a lake like a vision and the wind that blows across it proves that I’m alive, a discarded history so rich I feel privileged to watch it unfold. In Buffalo, we have turned something inside out, revealing the paradoxical everything of nothing. Our insignificance is of such great consequence it weighs on me like death; next stop: illumination.

AND NOW, FOR THE FORCED FINALE THAT’S TRUE NEVERTHELESS: in the growls of wild dogs I hear the song of the new American frontier, where being and not–being fade into the fact of we’re here anyway so what are you gonna do about it?––where significance and insignificance meet on weekends for an illicit drink (before returning to their established corners in time for tenure–track office–hours on Monday). We are the still point at which all contradictions meet and become one. I don’t care if you don’t care. The past, present and future is Buffalo’s essence. Someday you’ll join me in eternity.

Perry, New York… A Dreamy “Brooklyn – esque” Town! 

On our way to Ithaca today, we stopped in Perry!

Chris calls Perry the “Brooklyn of Wyoming County” because it has a contiguous dense urban fabric and a fantastic group of do gooders / movers and shakers doing some cool stuff.

We arrived unannounced but Ann (owner of Burlingham Books!) gave us a tour of the neighborhood and we ran into Ryan Fitzsimmons, a local architect who I spoke with at a preservation conference a few years back in Rochester!

(note: every time we travel randomly this scenario seems to happen where we run into awesome people… It’s actually very strange but I’m not complaining!)

Running into Ann & Ryan was awesome. We got to see the inside of the new brewery (coming 2016!) called Silver Lake Brewing, did a small hike to see Perry’s secret waterfall and we were given a tour of an old Victorian house that Ryan is renovating! Ryan, Ann and the other civic leaders in Perry, NY are working hard to bring people downtown, excite the community  and build civic pride… and it is paying off, truly!

Here are a few photos Chris & I took. If you get a chance to check out Perry, it’s right outside of Letchworth and well worth a visit!



Inspiration from Montreal… Day 1. 

Drew and I are wandering Montreal for the next few days… I wanted to post some photos for you all in an effort to show you what’s inspiring me at the moment. It’s a combination of the simple Parisian style, great fonts, pops of color and fun “placemaking” things I’ve seen in just the last half day. 

I’ll post some more soon! 



Buffalo takes on Detroit: 36 Hours In The Motor City by Bernice Radle

You have stolen my heart, Detroit.

Bernice Radle at the Michigan Central Station
The Michigan Central Station

Here is what happens when you put four people who love planning, cities, buildings and the rust belt together in a car. We drive 5 hours to Detroit, rent out a kick ass industrial loft space, wander around town checking out bars, shops and historic sites, tour a once forgotten Kresge Mansion now being renovated by a 30 year old and meet with Mark Nickita (architect, owner of Pure Detroit and Mayor of Birmingham MI), inside the Guardian building – an art deco masterpiece! It was a trip for the memory books. You can see photos from our trip here.

Here are my top three take aways from our 36 hours in Detroit.

Buffalo is Detroit’s sister city. Hands down. Our radial street grid, friendly mid western attitude and blue collar approach to life is nearly identical. We both can see Canada from our windows, we share Lake Erie and we share similar boom / bust  / rebirth stories. Detroit is definitely Buffalo’s older, bigger Brother – the industrial strength attitude is very masculine, IMO. Sure, Detroit is bigger in size and in population but we can learn a lot from one another and we are only a 5 hour drive away!

TRUE GRIT. With slogans like “Detroit Hustles Harder” and “Detroit Vs. Everybody”, it is clear that Detroit has embraced their true grit and entrepreneurial spirit and that nothing, including their steep decline, will stop them. A rising tide raises all the boats, was the mentality from many of the local folks we spoke with. Sure, there is a long way to go and a lot to accomplish but we left feeling a great deal of confidence in the future of the Motor City. Detroit is tough and resilient!

Detroit is ALIVE. All the articles you’ve read about the vacancy and decline is true however, many fail to notice or mention the incredible amount of life that Detroit has. We saw signs of it everywhere – from a 30 year old buying a Kresge Mansion to the emerging Michigan Avenue retail corridor… the entrepreneur spirit is alive and well in the Motor City.  The downtown is beautiful – the storefronts are lit up with lights, the ice skating rink was packed at midnight and even their top millionaires are working together to privately pay for a light rail system along Woodward Avenue. Heck, even billionaires own community gardens in Detroit.

In case you want to travel to Detroit and don’t know what to do, here is a list of all the places we went to in 36 hours. It was a true sprint!!

  • Industrial Loft Space – Check In (Air B&B)
  • Corktown Tavern
  • Gaelic Irish Center
  • Slows BBQ
  • Michigan Central Station
  • Mercury Bar
  • Motor City Wine Bar
  • UFO Bar
  • Downtown Detroit – Ice Rink / Fox Theatre / Woodward Avenue
  • Detroit Institute of Bagels
  • Brush Park
  • Kresge Mansion Tour – Arden Park
  • Eastern Market
  • Guardian Building / Talk with Mark Nikida
  • Mid Town – City Bird / Nest / Shinola
  • Traffic Jam Restaurant
  • Greektown – “Detroit Vs. Everybody” Store

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2013 in 30 Seconds.

Want to see my 2013 in 30 seconds? Check this out – http://flipagram.com/f/NefubYOFHP

2013 was my best year yet. Jason and I got engaged! We purchased five houses and two vacant lots. I was honored to be in the NYTimes, Buffalo Spree, Buffalo News, Buffalorising, Design Sponge and front page of NIagara Gazette for the preservation and house rehabilitation work that we do in Buffalo. I spoke at TEDXBuffalo which was an insane experience. Jason and I visited Nantucket twice. We partied in NYC at the DFA 12 anniversary party. We drove across the country and spent the summer with Lynette & Max in Buffalo. I was honored to be chosen as the Co Vice Chair of the NESEA Building Energy conference for 2014 and the Chair for 2015. I started and finished up Women Elect, too. Jason and I really became best friends. We grew and expanded friendships with many great people, watched his nephews grow a bit older, learned how we work together and loved a little harder.

Anyhow, so much awesomeness. 2014 is going to be insane. It has already started off crazy with a Donn Esmonde PIece, a Buffalo Spree article and the chicken wing interview with Mo Rocca. We are working hard on several projects and have many irons in the fire. We are planning our wedding (July 2014!) and we should be wrapping up our rehabs this year and expanding Buffalove a little bit!!

Life is truly how you make it. Determination is key. But I will always say that i am just one of thelucky ones. The harder you work, the luckier you are.

This wraps up 2013 in 30 seconds.Music by The Fantasy! –>http://flipagram.com/f/NefubYOFHP

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Tuesday, Oct 15th – Ted X Buffalo 2013!

Ted X Buffalo is on Tuesday, October 15th!

If you were not one of the lucky 400 people to get a ticket, you can live stream it online at tedxbuffalo.com !

I talk between 9:24 – 9:36am. My ted talk is called “Preservation 2.0“.  In 12 minutes, I will hopefully educate the audience about the “Vacancy Vortex” and show people what the young preservationists are doing to help save these vacant houses from heading to a landfill.
Our vacancy crisis is real and houses are being demolished unnecessarily everyday. Rehabbing our vacant houses is our ticket to maintaining affordability, adding jobs, increasing neighborhood value (financially and socially) and also, they are inherently more sustainable – the old growth wood, crown molding and other details inside these homes trumps anything you can buy today.
This Ted X talk is in no way rocket science nor will it bring tears of joy but understanding the vacancy vortex it is important to the future our neighborhoods and to the overall well being of Buffalo. I hope you like it!


Buffalo: The Best Designed City !

I was one of the many folks who teared up last night while watching the premier of this film. The video highlights the some of the best parts of our city and provides aerial shots that are breathtaking.  The film covers our continued struggles with vacancies and declining neighborhoods but ends on a positive tone about how we are springing back and becoming great once again. Buffalo is a GREAT city to live, work and play and I am thankful to be a part of all of this amazing Buffalo madness. What an incredible video!!
Here’s the direct link to the video if you’d like to mention it in an email / tweet / facebook post.
You can also send people to the website, where the film is prominent and easy to view:


Photos By: Nate Peracciny

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City Heart Art Installation for City of Night – Help Fund This Piece!

I don’t usually suggest things like this but Casey Milbrand’s City Heart art piece is going to be an important piece at this weekends event –  City of Night.  Casey wants to create an interactive giant heart out of bicycle wheels. Giant art installations like this remind me of festivals and big cities… and Buffalo deserves to have one. On top of that, who doesn’t like giant hearts!??!!!??

Please consider donating to his indiegogo campaign – http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cityheart

You can watch this video for the details! http://igg.me/at/BuffaloNY-CityHEART

See you at City of Night on Saturday, August 17th!

city heart casey city of night

Bicycle Sharing in Boston: Hubways, Bike Lanes and Sharrows, Oh My!

Bicycle Sharing is really taking off across the country – with NYC’s Citi bike coming online this month and Buffalo Bike Share on its way, I have been eager to use a bicycle sharing system and write about it.

I was just recently in Boston and had the opportunity to use their new regional “Hubway” bicycle sharing system. With Buffalo in the beginning stages of getting a Bicycle sharing program (Buffalo Bike Share!), I thought it would be good to discuss my bicycle sharing experience in Boston with all my fellow Buffalonians!

I am not going to lie, I was very hesitant to use a bicycle in Boston. I was worried about the offensive drivers, riding in a much bigger city and the organic, (often wacky, if you ask me) and seemingly directionless street grid. Lucky for me, my wonderful friend Helen is a year around bicycle commuter in Boston and she threw a helmet in my lap and made me try the bicycle share.

In Boston, it seems as if everyone rides a bicycle. There are bicycle lanes, locking racks and Hubway stations everywhere. Even where bicycle lanes did not fit, there were “sharrows” that indicated to the driver to share the road with bicyclists. There is even a well lit cycle track integrated within the MIT campus. Considering how cold Boston can be (similar to Buffalo!), I was surprised to see bicycles and bicycle infrastructure everywhere!

About Hubway:

For $12 bucks, you can have a three day pass to the Hubway bicycle sharing program. As a tourist or visitor, this is a great alternative to renting a bicycle, driving and parking, subway rides at 2+ dollars each and/or walking everywhere. The hubway stations are easy to understand and very accessible. The bicycles are comfortable to ride, pretty light weight and well taken care of.

There are “hubway” hubs every few blocks because they are designed for short trips – a 30 minute ride or less is covered under the $12 dollar charge. Anything over 30 minutes incurs additional fees that rapidly go up with every minute. Wondering why? The goal of any bicycle sharing program is short, quick trips – getting the bicycles and the people from one station to another. Considering the the majority of bicycle trips are under 2 – 3 miles, this 30 minute goal can be easily achieved!

Boston is a wonderful city to use a bicycle in. I am still surprised as to how fun and fairly stress free it was to ride a bicycle in such a big city… maybe it was my tour guide (thanks Helen!) but there’s no doubt that the bicycle infrastructure helped. For me,  using the Hubway allowed me to see so many areas of the city very quickly but also in great detail. It was fun to ride over bridges, along the water and see the downtown area. I felt like I took a city tour except I wasn’t in a bus – I  was on a bike. It was a fun experience!! One can only hope that Buffalo continues to get more bicycle infrastructure added to our streets so we can grow our bicycle culture. I am really looking forward to seeing how the Buffalo BikeShare program works out!

This article from Treehugger.com came online today really sums up the details and facts surrounding the bike share craze. Check it out!

Boston”s Hubway Bicycle Sharing Program has bicycle hubs throughout the City.
A view of Boston taken while bicycling down a riverview route that I cannot remember. Love the sailboats!
Here I am, happy as a clam in Boston because I am riding a Boston Hubway Bicycle.