Why Buffalo is the best U.S. city for climate refugees
Industrial decline cut its population in half, but Buffalo, in New York, is poised to become the safest city in the U.S. in times of global warming.
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As the U.S. tackles the immigration crisis by putting more obstacles in the way of the millions of people who leave their homes in search of work and shelter, the city of Buffalo, west of New York, is waiting for new waves of climate refugees to revive its streets and reopen stores and industries.
The claim: the region's cool climate and abundance of freshwater, plus the fact that, after its decline as an industrial power, there is plenty of room, announced its mayor, Byron Brown, to accommodate people who have been displaced by inclement weather and natural disasters.
Because Buffalo is "Climate Shelter City" and has already celebrated the arrival of numerous Puerto Ricans fleeing the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Maria, according to Mother Jones.
Since 1965, temperatures have risen two degrees throughout the United States. This summer's fires in California, floods in the Midwest, and hurricane winds along the Gulf Coast are proof that global warming democratizes chaos, except in western New York.
At least that's what scientists like Stephen Vermette of SUNY Buffalo State, who has investigated the effects of climate change in the region without finding any evidence of increased rainfall or more severe heat waves, scientists say, thanks to the breeze from Lake Erie, which he says acts as a natural cooling device, keeping the city cool even on the hottest days.
Why this curious "microclimate" effect? Could Buffalo become the last stronghold of life that adapts to the chaotic environment, a dome in the middle of a future desert?
"The way I described it in a meeting was this: `With climate change, the world is going to stink, but Buffalo may stink less,'' he said. "We may not only be able to adapt. We can thrive as a region in a world where the climate is changing."
With two seasons and not four, while cities like Los Angeles or San Diego are doomed to drought, the forgotten Buffalo, whose industrial decline has caused a huge drop in population in the last 70 years, will not only have a steady water supply - the Great Lakes region holds 20% of the world's freshwater surface - but also today has no more than 260,000 inhabitants, which means there is a lot of empty space to occupy.
Researchers such as Vivek Shandas, professor of urban planning at Portland State University, say that by the end of this century the 82 counties of the United States will experience changes that will lead thousands of people to seek refuge in the north, and "Buffalo is very well situated in many ways. However, the city has not yet made known how it prepares for this desired influx of climate refugees, despite the speech of its proud mayor.
What is the risk for migrants from places like Puerto Rico, who come to the city in search of affordable housing and employment? Will Buffalo become a climate "Galia" for the bourgeoisie? What would happen if the wealthier classes of cities like Miami or New York moved to this cold paradise on the shores of Lake Erie? Would there be room for those other climate refugees?
"Let's say Buffalo becomes a magnet that attracts everyone looking for a good place to live. It will become the East Coast version of San Francisco," asked Henry Louis Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning.
"Will we essentially recreate what I call the "White City"? A city for white people and other groups who can afford to live there."
For its mayor, however, the biggest problem is not Buffalo's future gentrification, nor the rising price of housing, but the low incomes of its current population. That's why their political efforts are focused on job creation, although experts point out that more measures are needed to protect the working class from future waves of wealthy migrants.
In fact, in recent years and due to the claim of its low cost of living and its nickname "Climate Shelter", Buffalo has been picking up a slow but progressive increase in professionals in the technology sector, and threatens, they warn, to reproduce the model of cities like San Francisco or New York, where it is the market and not a fair policy that governs people's lives.
Welcome to Buffalo. Welcome to the last redoubt of the U.S. where you can still fish salmon and the heatwave is just a gentle undulation. Welcome, some say, and goodbye.