Category Archives: Buffalo NY, USA

All Quiet on the Western Front?

Not at all! Team Buffalo have been working hard all week holding further interviews, and compiling our findings and recommendations in such a way that when we depart the City will have  a set of compelling and clear steps to follow.

ImageWe were fortunate to have a couple of informal meetings with the mayor and his key staff to validate whether our recommendations would be received positively, hitting the mark.

The feedback and refinement culminated in our team making the formal and public presentation in front of 50 city, community, school, business leaders and even some of the Youth we interviewed on Thursday afternoon. Led by our very able presenters, Erica and Yu Kit, we shared how City of Buffalo really has so much going for it, with all the foundations in place – but with some additional focus on collaboration and leadership especially with the business community, accelerating sharing of data, and some additional innovations such as ‘serious games’ and a ‘Ready for Employment Portal’ – youth employment will improve.

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Jill from Buffalo News summarized our recommendations well – http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130524/CITYANDREGION/130529444/1003

The mayor  strongly endorsed our recommendations and publicly declared his intent to implement what IBM had prescribed.  This was the encouragement we needed to spend our last day honing our detailed action plan and roadmap.

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We treated ourselves to one final dinner as a team – yet another amazing dining experience – at Hutch’s. This one was all the more special as we reflected on our last 3 weeks:

  • Despite our disparate backgrounds, individual (strong) personalities, and complementary skills we really did gel as a team and genuinely enjoyed our company. We had so many laughs. Some of us even started to adopt others’ habits!
  • We were all overwhelmed by the generosity and warm welcome we received from everyone in Buffalo –  from everyone we interviewed to the people we met in the street.
  • And Buffalo really is one of America’s best kept secrets – the architecture, the restaurants, the open parkways, the list goes on…

I am only minutes away from starting my journey home. This has been a tremendous learning experience for me and I know everyone on the team feels the same.  Will definitely stay in touch to see what develops next in City of Buffalo!

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It takes a village…

Working on the Smarter cities challenge at Buffalo reiterates on thing that we hear constantly..It takes a village..To get children on the right path of education, investing in their future, get the various constituencies to play nice and play together, for the various stakeholders to find that common ground in making it all work..It does take a village.

One constant theme that we all are seeing in our various interactions with folks representing the community of the city of Buffalo, the service providers such as the Employment Opportunity centers or Urban Leage, the owners of the businesses who are seeing a very positive vibe through out the city or the leaders of the City driving policy making – all have the best intentions for the City of the Buffalo. All see a resurgence. All see a very positive growth prospects. All of them are committed to seeing the city of Buffalo seeing its growth potential, just like it did during the prime time of 1950s. I have to say, its rare to see such a collaborative effort across the various areas of the city with a common goal – Buffalo Rising. This is a great testament of the people of Buffalo coming together and working together to see the growth prospects becoming real. This is a wave that will certainly rise the City of Buffalo and the people to higher prospects, higher levels of possibilities. I am inspired by the unity and optimism. A great representation of the spirit of the community that lives in many corners of this country and in many parts of the world.

Way to go Buffalo!

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Work Hard, Play Hard

Time is flying fast. It’s end of week 2 and we have interviewed over 70 stakeholders, synthesised our findings and have started to hunker down formulating our recommendations and writing the report.  But you know what they say – work hard, play hard – and given we all felt like the play hard has been lagging somewhat we treated ourselves to a night off on Friday. We had a seriously fabulous meal at a downtown restaurant called SeaBar. It has a very eclectic menu serving innovative sushi but then also random dishes like meatballs and chicken & waffles! Apparently the ‘random’ dishes are all the Chef/Owner’s favourites meals. I could  not tell you which dish was my favourite but the Seafood tacos, Beef on Weck Sushi, Chicken and Waffles (go figure) and 24hr cooked short rib stand out.

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Our ‘playing hard’ run extended to the Saturday during which we all visited the spectacular  Darwin Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most renowned architect.  The house is remarkable for being way ahead of its time – although built in 1905 –  it looks like it was built in 1970s, it had an open plan approach (unheard of for its time) and many of the materials used were also uncommon. Although the house looks very minimalist and simple, the level of detail that went into the glass and/or functionality of the home was meticulous.  On our private tour we had the privilege to hear the entire history – the Restoration Foundation have really done an amazing job presenting the home  – another wonderful  Buffalo experience of global proportions.

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Some of us decided to follow the Martin house tour with another burst of culture at the Albright- Knox Art  Gallery. It is among one of the oldest art galleries in the Unites States and has an envious collection of modern and contemporary art including Pollock, Gauguin, Matisse, Warhol, de Kooning, Picasso.

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Our day off was topped off with a meal at Mike A’s – the  owner and chef of SeaBar’s other restaurant located in the historic, majestic Lafayette Hotel. We even got to meet him!

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Pork special

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Up Close and Personal

During Week 1 we conducted over 30 interviews with City Hall, Government Owned Entities (GOEs) and  education institutions.  This week we are engaging with various organizations representing the business community and industry, as well some of the larger employers of Youth in the region. But most importantly (at least for me)  we are getting out and about meeting Youth in various Buffalo neighborhoods.

Loaded with our Tim Hortons donuts (local delicacy) we visit students at a CTE (Career & Technical Education) School, Hutchinson Central technical Highshool, where we met with  senior high school students; a group of out of school youth attending a Computers for Children program, and more out of school youth going for their GED at the Adult Education Center.

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We explored a variety of themes including what they want to do/be ‘when they grow up’, what they did or did not like about school, why they dropped out of school; whether they felt they were being adequately prepared and/or had the support required to fulfil their ambitions; did they have internet access or smart phones; and the list goes on.

We were very  impressed by the level of motivation, focus and sense of personal responsibility these young adults and teenagers have – despite their significant adversity many of them face. We are extremely grateful to all the youth sharing their experiences with us and for our Buffalo contacts for setting these meetings up for us.

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Natural Wonders

Buffalo welcomed us with balmy spring weather – everyone commented how they had turned on the weather just for our arrival.  Well perhaps we are starting to outstay our welcome as the temperature has dropped drastically, the clouds have settled in and we are even being entertained by sporadic hail storms throughout the days.

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Regardless after a busy week of SCC work,  we are all excited to experience the world renowned Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls is only about an easy 20minute drive from Downtown Buffalo – with what appears to be  an enormous plume of smoke on the horizon.  That plume of smoke however is actually mist from the almighty, powerful Falls.

Did you know that Niagara Falls is actually a separate city and used as a collective name for the actual 3 waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls which straddle the international border between Canada and US.

The natural wonder located on the Niagara River, drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and in addition to its beauty is a significant source of hydroelectric power.

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The force by which the water pounds over the Falls is astounding and breathtaking  – which we were able to experience first hand by taking the historical Maid of the Mist Boat Tour to get a birdseye view of the Horsehoe Falls) and Caves of the Mist which if you wanted to ( or don’t want to) brings you in touch with the Bridal Falls (literally).

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Image Our local SCC team member took us to one of the local fast food chains – Ted’s Hot Dogs for lunch.  Boy they were good and I am not particularly fussed when it comes to Hot Dogs.  And their onion rings were to die for!

Before we headed back home to resume our work, we were given a bit of a tour around some of the  less prosperous City of Buffalo neighborhoods we have been studying to give us a better perspective about what we have been hearing.  As simple as crossing a road can take you from a well to do neigborhood to one of blight.

For dinner, we all wanted to experience the other natural wonder of Buffalo – Buffalo Wings – whether your taste is mild, spicy or suicide hot, there is a Wing for everyone’s taste!

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City of Good Neighbors

Before arriving,  a number of people commented how wonderful the people in Buffalo are and whilst here we have seen a strong sense of community and neighborhood – the people are indeed friendly, welcoming and wonderful.  One of the city’s moniker’s is actually the ‘City of Good Neighbours’.

We saw this wholehearterdly in action today during the weekly Save our Streets (SOS) Clean Sweep.  The purpose of this program is to empower residents in the community and improve the quality of life in the City of Buffalo. So every week, the SOS taskforce comprising  of various law enforcement and government agencies as well as volunteers,  descend on one designated street and do a big clean up,  whether it be fixing pavements,  getting rid of rubbish, trimming trees, even demolishing condemned homes.

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Simultaneously,  a door to door knock occurs during which residents are made aware and offered a variety of services and benefits including dental services, ensuring smoke detectors are fitted, employment readiness programs etc..  There were literally 70-100 council and city workers and volunteers involved – who all wanted to be there demonstrating a huge amount of pride in being able to help their neighbors.

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We could have stayed and helped out all day but more interviews and data gathering meetings beckoned.

After stocking up on some caffeine at a local coffee chain, Spot Coffee, we headed back into City Hall and met with City Council, Christine Carr and Dr Steven Harvey,  from Computers For Children, Antoine Thompson Director, Buffalo Employment & Training Center and Pamela Henderson.

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We have learnt so much over the last 2 days and already starting to form concrete thoughts and ideas.

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Buffalo Rising

Our first meeting for the day was with the Honorable  Mayor Brown – a dynamic,  articulate leader who made us feel very welcome and gave us wonderful insights into his vision and ambition for the City of Buffalo. He and his team have 3 guiding principles:  i) improving the economic climate; ii) improving quality of life and iii) making the delivery of services more accountable and efficient.

The city of Buffalo is in the midst of significant economic investment and development – the most it has seen in decades – and Mayor Brown wants to ensure that all of his constituents benefit  – especially Youth.

Our team has been tasked with how the City can leverage data to  increase  youth  employment in high risk neighborhoods.

This was the backdrop for the official kick off which happened immediately afterwards, during which key stakeholders and media were present.

Here is one piece of coverage that appeared later today

But it was back to business after the obligatory formal photos were taken. We met  formally with a number of the Mayor’s senior leadership team including  Otis Barker Deputy Commissioner Community Services; Oswaldo  Mestre Director Citizen Services, Brendan Mehaffy, Executive Director Office of Strategic Planning and key stakeholder, CEO of Buffalo Urban League, Brenda McDuffie. Each gave their unique perspective regarding the issues and challenges facing youth employment today and a run down on the programs available today.

Despite it being a long and demanding day, we were pretty pleased with what we learnt and how forthcoming everyone is with sharing their insights.

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