I’m a new Buffalonian! I’ve lived here four months, I have a favorite wings place (Gabriel's Gate), I know which NFL team I support (Bills, clearly) and I have firm opinions on which bakery serves the best sourdough (Five Points), croissants (ButterBlock) and bagels (Breadhive)
I’m originally from South Africa, growing up in Cape Town surrounded by beaches and mountains. I then had the opportunity to move with my wife to two of the worlds other great cities – London and New York. Both will always be near to my heart. London for its history and access to Europe, New York for its innate New Yorkiness! But even with that sort of background and opportunity we were so happy to move to Buffalo, and I’d like to tell you why.
The first reason for moving was as it usually is – a new job opportunity. I work at M&T Bank as the Chief Data Officer. This is a top tier organization, well led and headquartered out of Buffalo. However it isn’t the only significant corporate presence. As part of relocating my wife and I participate in something called “Leadership Buffalo” This is a good example of why Buffalo is called the “City of Good Neighbors”.
The non-profit seeks to ensure relocating individuals and families start putting in roots through a range of interaction opportunities. In our case we meet once a month with other new arrivals, we get to tour a historic building, meet with someone interesting then go for a fine meal together.
The first event included City Hall and meeting Mayor Byron Brown so hard to top! And in July we explored the Richardson Hotel built on part of the country’s largest building rehabilitation program, the Richardson Olmsted Campus as well as taking a hard hat tour through what was a state of the art beginning of the 20th century mental health facility. Spooky? Only a little!
What else am I enjoying?
Family: I wanted my children to have more of the life I had growing up. Easy access to the outdoors in all seasons. Buffalo is under an hour drive from multiple destinations. Letchworth Park – the Grand Canyon of the East, Alleghany, the largest state park in New York, the Finger Lakes 90 minutes away. Of course its easy to say that, its like saying you live in London or New York “for the culture” but never attend a show! However large well kept roads and low traffic means it’s a no stress trip. In 4 months I’ve been to all of the three I just named and in September I have a camping cabin booked in Alleghany for the us to do some leaf peeping as the foliage season arrives. Snow will be coming but that’s also where we will lean in, Ellicottville has two solid resorts and is 58 minutes away. Other smaller resorts are scattered around as well.
Cost of Living: Best encapsulated by a mentee of mine who hails from Portland, Oregon. When I asked why she lived in Buffalo she said “I could buy my own house aged 25, couldn’t do that back home”. Generally the cost of living is far cheaper. Just Zillow what you can get in the Buffalo area, combine it with a google maps commute check and the maths starts to add up. Suburban taxes are equivalent but you get great schools, independent schools are about 30% of what you pay in New York for a school of high quality and equal history. You can see this pay out through the boomerang people. I have met so many people who have spent 10 or more years in LA, Boston, New York or Washington and have returned home to give their kids the life they had growing up.
Ease of Living: In London I had horrors with the North Circular, the A3 and the M25. In New York I had the same with the GW Bridge, coming back in from Long Island to Manhattan and indeed anytime I was leaving or coming back into these densely populated areas. In Buffalo the joke is you are 20 minutes to everything. It just happens to be true, the city was built for a larger population, in the 1950’s onwards the population shrunk but the large roads remained in place, to our benefit. Combine that with lots of parking
Culture: Buffalo is one of those cities which grew up, created magnificent parks and buildings before falling on tougher times and then resurging as we see today. Shows coming through town are put on in Shea’s Theatre. This is an amazing theatre, built in 1926, fell on hard times in the 60’s and 70‘s before a revitalization due to strong civic minded volunteerism. It seats just under 4,000 people in a venue that I would put up against anything I have seen in New York or London. Add to that the hundreds of millions invested into the refurbished AKG Arts museum, a multitude of history museums and there are plenty of options. As someone who literally lived at the New York Natural History Museum with energetic toddlers on cold winters days I value what the museums deliver!
Travel: Car travel is easy, so is flying. Toronto, Niagara on the Lake and the Finger Lakes are all under two hours. More importantly perhaps is that Buffalo Airport is modern and efficient. My wife is 100% remote but has to travel, I also travel for work and part of relocating was committing to our children that we would still see our close friends in New York. From our house to the airport is 15 minutes, we park in one of four lots all within a 10 minute walk and it takes no time at all to check in. 55 minute flight to New York. After years of not picking people up from the airport in London and New York due to the travel time it’s a pleasure meeting visitors at the arrival gate with our home made signs again. Combine that with a direct flight to Europe from Toronto we are feeling very well situated.
Volunteering: In a smaller town it’s easier to make a difference. I’m exploring volunteer opportunities both supported by M&T as well as those exposed to me via Leadership Buffalo. In each case I feel I can make a difference, more so in the larger scale city environments.
Maybe you are sitting there thinking “sure Andrew, that’s all positive, what about the negative?”
Not too much so far. We found amazing bakeries and top tier restaurants but have found it tougher to get hold of great takeaways. Found one for Thai, Indian and Mexican food but also had our share of missteps. Winter might be cold but we like to ski, so we're more excited than anything else. And this is where the ease of airport access makes all the difference. Florida, Vegas, and wherever else is not so far away. Either way check back in with me in March, I’ll let you know how it went!
The other aspect on weather is that Buffalo is a climate haven. Summer is glorious (hot, not too hot, no humidity) and 20 percent of the worlds fresh water on our doorstep. As someone said to me, “snow melts, it doesn’t blow your house down.”
I think its important to recognize the benefit in every location rather than trying to play off where you are versus where you have been. In London I loved its cosmopolitan nature, the sun setting at 10PM in summer, getting to Paris by train in about 2 hours. In New York I loved its vibrancy, its feeling that you are at the center of the world, its unequalled food options. And in Buffalo I am loving living in a house for the first time in 20 years, a feeling that in a smaller city I can make more of an impact on its community, and seeing my children run down the street to a local lake to go swimming.
Andrew Foster is a new Buffalonian and the new Chief Data Officer at M&T Bank.