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.
"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."
DOUGLAS L. TURNER
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."
G. WILLIAM DOMHOFF
Research Professor in Sociology
University of California, Santa Cruz