Buffalo must prepare for Climate migrants – the companion effort to clean energy development

Author: Phil W., City of Tonawanda resident

Climate change and its local impact has drawn attention and leadership to the subject that informs, and more importantly, provides recommendations for our region to survive – and thrive.

The Spectrum News series “Seeking Higher Ground: America’s Climate Migration” is a well-produced documentary on realistic preparations that communities should embrace, and a portion of the program is focused on the Greater Buffalo region being a “climate refuge” area.  The City of Buffalo has leadership fully engaged through the Departments of Strategic Planning, as well as the recently created position of Climate Action Manager.

Steady weather reports describing tornado ravaged regions, extreme heat and water shortages, including salt water migrating up the Mississippi River threatening the drinking water for millions, hurricanes, wild fires, atmospheric rivers, and other weather events, reinforce that certain areas are becoming harder for residents to sustain livability. 

The combination of the observation that thinking should not be focused on “what areas will remain free from climate change impacts?,” but rather “what regions are adjusting to climate change impacts?,” along with the fact that our region has a climate refuge designation should warrant broad based attention and support.

Observations in the documentary include the disclosure of California wine-makers buying up huge swaths of land surrounding the finger lakes, and the general anticipation that our fresh water and relatively stable weather that includes a long history of navigating through extreme snow events, adds up to the need to anticipate steady growth in weather migrants.

Adequate housing is already an issue in our region, and the ability to expand and absorb climate migrants has policies incubating under that subject.

The billions New York has invested in clean energy to reduce carbon emissions must have a companion effort to invest in regional preparedness for the impending migration.

There are complementary investments that can and should occur in things like the number one source of carbon emissions in the U.S. – transportation.  Investments in public transit can provide the dual benefit of reducing emissions and anticipating realistic population growth.  Anyone who has driven through areas that saw population surges as a result of COVID migration know what a nightmare traffic congestion is, with greater emissions adding insult to climate injury.

Image: Creative Commons

My dear Mother would be 102 years old were she still with us, but stories from her youth included a Buffalo with numerous street cars that ran frequently through a vast network (see lead image).  The history is documented here:  Buffalo’s 180-Year Streetcar History Linked to the City’s Changing Fortunes | SkyriseCities.

While those days are sadly in the rear-view mirrors of our ever more aggressive drivers, the need to focus on our future that includes emission reductions and preparing for continued population growth, makes way for strategic investments in people carriers.

While Europe has gone in another direction for decades with high speed rail moving residents and tourists with grace and ease, there are also numerous examples of pragmatic investments other cities have made, such as the photo from the Portland, Oregon.  This particular snapshot (above) was taken during a visit, and showed a transit HUB, where rail, buses and massive bike racks joined together.  It also has a gondola system that moves residents and employees to and from a major hospital located up an otherwise difficult to traverse hill.

While remaining agnostic on the $1 billion investment to cover the Kensington Expressway, if leadership embraces a vibrant, growing Greater Buffalo Region ready to adapt to climate and other immigration, strategic growth in public transit must be part of the conversation.  As “The Great One” once shared in its simplicity – “let’s not chase the puck, lets anticipate where the puck will be”.

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