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Buffalo: Introduction

70 miles W of Rochester; 398 miles NW of New York City

It's the eighth-largest city for population in America, with more millionaires per capita than any other American city. It's an industrial hub that hosted a world's fair. The country's top architects are flocking here to design and construct landmark buildings, including the world's largest office building.

At least, this could have been said about Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century. It's no secret that this city has seen better days, but the legacy of its past -- one that's being renovated with some modern quirks thrown in for good measure -- makes Buffalo a worthwhile stop for a couple of days' stay.

I grew up in nearby Rochester, and all I knew about Buffalo was that it was home to the invention of the chicken wing and it got more snow than anywhere else in the universe. My loss. When industrialists realized that the Great Lakes/Erie Canal/Hudson River route was the way to get things from America's heartland to Europe, it inspired a boom. And those businessmen put their money back into the city: They brought Frederick Law Olmsted, fresh off his creation of Central Park in New York City, to design Buffalo's park system. They summoned architects Frank Lloyd Wright, H. H. Sullivan, and E. B. Green to fulfill their every architectural whim for business and personal space, and many of their treasures still stand downtown.

The economy is still struggling, but Buffalo is forging ahead anyway. The Burchfield-Penney Art Center collection is slated to move into a new museum in 2008; the Westside Rowing Club is building a new boathouse based on Frank Lloyd Wright plans (scheduled to open late 2007); and city officials are hoping a museum built around the original terminus of the Erie Canal will open around the same time. In the meantime, you can satisfy yourself architecturally with a walk downtown, and there are a couple of cool hotels and a growing number of very good restaurants. Oh, and just for the record: Chicken wings aren't the only quirky food this city created; and though the city does indeed get some 90 inches of snow each year, it also averages 85 days with temperatures over 75.

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