By Paige Melin | BN360 Spotlight Professional, July 2019
One of my favorite quotes comes from Ellen DeGeneres in the December 2009 issue of The Oprah Magazine:
“It’s our challenges and obstacles that give us layers of depth and make us interesting. Are they fun when they happen? No. But they are what make us unique.”
Having grown up and lived in the Buffalo Niagara region, I think this quote sums up what I most appreciate about our region. There is incredible depth to Buffalo and the surrounding communities—it’s what I love most about living here. Despite living here for most of my life, I am constantly reminded of these many layers in our region.
For example, during my first summer working for Explore Buffalo I attended the Masters of American Architecture walking tour, which includes the famous Guaranty/Prudential building along its route. As a teenager and college student, I had driven past that building countless times, but I never really stopped to notice it. It only vaguely registered as a nondescript orange-brownish building I passed on my way to the 190. It wasn’t until I was out on that tour that I finally walked up to the building for the first time. I was blown away. The molded terra cotta, making up the exterior of the building is breathtakingly intricate. It’s mesmerizing following all the tiny swirls and spirals of the vine-like motifs. I was reminded, of why I love Buffalo: it’s the way it always surprises you.
Surprises and layers are what makes Buffalo truly unique. Of course, we haven’t gotten to where we are today without facing our own challenges and obstacles. Similar to other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo once knew a booming economy bolstered by factors like the Erie Canal, which terminates its state-wide journey where Canalside lies today; our world-renowned grain elevators and modernist silos; electricity harnessed from Niagara Falls; and our teeming steel industry, which supported efforts in the World Wars. However, after WWII, a variety of factors combined to drive WNY into an economic downfall. We lost nearly half of our population as people sought jobs and opportunity elsewhere.
These challenges and obstacles were difficult. Even today, as Buffalo experiences a renaissance, our region and many of its inhabitants still face challenges and obstacles in educational equity, economic opportunity, and more. I am optimistic that today’s challenges will offer our region’s citizens and leaders opportunities to learn from our past, innovate thoughtful and community-based solutions, and find the strength to persevere.
Just as Buffalo Niagara possesses qualities of learning, innovating, and persevering, I think it’s important for young professionals to develop those qualities—especially as we navigate our way through the workforce and establish our own connections, initiatives, and identities. None of us are without personal, professional, or societal challenges or obstacles… but these road bumps are precisely what give us layers of experience, wisdom, and character.