The audience that Get Urban! aims to capture appears to be the wealthy suburban baby boomers to whom new urban real estate development in places such as Buffalo has been geared.

Ezell defines three desirable urban areas or “urbs.” Post-industrial urbs are comprised of factories that have been converted to cool, pseudo-soho loft spaces. Think Elk Terminal. Garden urbs are “quaint, tree-lined areas, often with historical or significant residential and commercial architecture.”

These are not to be confused with eclectic urbs, which are models of diversity and “funkiness.” Elmwood is given as an example of an eclectic urb, although it clearly seems to fit the definition of both. Ezell insists on calling Allentown and the area around the strip “Greater Elmwood Village.” The annoying habit of coming up with new names for urban areas carries throughout the book for a reason: the author’s rigid public relations mindset. (Personally we prefer the title of People’s Republic of Elmwood, but there’s no accounting for taste.)

Finally, all other areas are relegated to the status of “blank canvas urbs.” So outside of the “Greater Elmwood Village urb,” Buffalo apparently has a lot of blank canvas urbs to offer. That’s the bright and optimistic side.

In reading this book, which proclaims to be a guide to persons seeking to connect their identity type with one type of vital urban area, one can’t help but think that a sort of colonization project is already under way. Driving demand for better urban living areas would appear to be a laudable goal and, although self-appointed urban cheerleaders such Ezell or various Buffalo News writers can be very annoying indeed, it would seem that most everyone you talk to wants Buffalo to “make a comeback.”

When one considers the fact that federal housing money was pumped into Ciminelli’s Sidway loft conversion project at the rate of about $180,000 per unit, however, optimism should give way to a more healthy skepticism. Ezell points out the need for urban energy in all successful “urban renewal.” Time and again, though, Buffalo’s urban energy has been dissipated, along with federal dollars, on isolated, politically driven projects that have yet to result in the creation of a single new “urb” of any sort.

In addition, the predilection for what Chippewa Strip entrepreneur Mark Goldman called “deathstars” (monolithic public construction projects that punch holes in the fabric of urban neighborhoods) seems to continue with the enormously expensive bioinformatics “signature building,” on Washington Street.

In terms of the success of the Elmwood area’s continued stability in the real estate market, it’s sobering to note that much of the rest of the city’s west side has more or less collapsed. Therefore, people attracted to Elmwood for its “funkiness” must pay a premium for housing that is funky, but a safe distance from crack dens.

The downside that doesn’t appear in this work is that, while disinvestment in urban areas continues to bounce along the bottom, federal aid to cities, long abused by corrupt city governments such as the Masiello administration, appears to be in danger as well. As political power shifts to the sun belt, so will federal dollars needed to prop the bloated infrastructures of ubiquitous sprawl. What our own optimistic regional planners, such as the Giambra administration’s Bruce Fisher, don’t want to talk about is the growing inclination of the federal government to turn its back on such places as Buffalo. While this reached a new level with the sudden postponement of the federal courthouse project by Republicans in power, one can’t expect the Democrats, if brought back into power this fall to keep the gravy train flowing into urban renewal projects that have often done more harm than good in the Northeast.

The Bush debacle aside, if Democrats seek to maintain power, they must build a strong constituency in the so-called “red states.”

A cottage industry has grown up around the nostalgia for America’s abandoned and forgotten urban centers. Numerous urban planners regularly do the lecture circuit in places such as Buffalo. Feel-good feature pieces, editorials, and columns regularly appear in daily newspapers promoting renewal for America’s rust-belt cities. And real estate speculators take their turn at banging the drum while posting properties on the internet that they’ve never seen in person.

If there’s one thing to be admired about these folks, it’s their eternal optimism. This same kind of optimism permeates Kyle Ezell’s book, relentlessly. Racism and drug violence receive virtually no attention. Struggling working class neighborhoods that are devoid of job opportunities are also pretty much ignored. Instead, what we are presented with is a public relations campaign on behalf of certain kinds of city living.