Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

December 2013

Ineffably Urban; Imaging Buffalo

Chapter 10: Buffalo, A Place in Search of a Brand


Books, Miriam Paeslack, Urbanism

Edited by Miriam Paeslack, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, NY, USA

Buffalo, in New York state, is ‘ineffable’: a typical city in transition between its past and future. It is a classic example of one of many ‘shrinking cities’ in North America and elsewhere which once prospered because of heavy industrialization, but which now have to deal with various degrees of urban decay. Bringing together a range of scholars from the humanities, the social sciences, art and architecture, this volume looks at both the literal city image and urban representation generated by photographs, video, historical and contemporary narratives, and grass-root initiatives. It investigates the notion of agency of media in the city and, in return, what the city’s agency is. This agency matters particularly as it is both transforming – shrinking, fading, being redefined – and being shaped through its visual and spatial mediation.

While illustrated by Buffalo in particular, the book examines a broader phenomenon: the identity of those cities that were built and blossomed during the late 19th and early 20th century and are now in different stages of decline and disintegration. However, while such cities are all confronted with complex issues of economic instability, social and racial segregation, urban sprawl and shrinking processes both in the inner city and more and more in their ex-urban belts, they are too often described through dramatically simplifying visual and linguistic tropes. In Buffalo such tropes refer dialectically either to the city’s past glory or its presumed current cultural, political and economical stasis and decline. This book takes such tired, and familiar tropes and questions them.

Contents: Preface; Prologue, Andreas Huyssen; Introduction: ineffably urban, Miriam Paeslack; Part I After-Urban: The world according to rubble, Jeff Byles; The Fargo house, Dennis Maher; American pyromania, Jean-Michel Reed; Peripheral spaces, Julian Montague; Excavations: Last House, Carl Lee. Part II Retro-Urban: Imagining the managed city: representing Buffalo in transformation, 1804-1929, Peter Bacon Hales; Portraits of the ineffable city: Milton Rogovin’s serial photography, Michael Frisch and Miriam Paeslack; The grain of the image, Hadas A. Steiner; Thoughts on A, Gregory Halpern. Part III Future-Urban: Buffalo: a place in search of a brand, Mimi Zeiger; Nature resurged: Buffalo’s new pastoral, Aaron Bartley; Urban decodings from the inside out, Dorothea Braemer; The Tough stuff from the Buff film and video tour, Julie Perini and David Gracon; Mapping refugee urbanism. Visual languages of sensing, play and immigration policy, Jordan Geiger; Afterword, Mark Goldman; Index.