Life without Amazon. The quiescence of a shopper, and early adopter.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a shopper. I like to shop, to find things that are curious and interesting, and that will improve the quality of my every day life.

However, over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that I have more than I could ever possibly need. I have two bicycles, an entire home office full of all kinds of machinery, every iPhone ever made and nearly every iPad, an extra kitchen full of dishes, pots, and pans and a closet that could clothe a small army. As I do more reading about Döstädning (Swedish Death Cleaning), I recognize that recreational shopping whittles away a nest egg and re-feathers the nest with stuff. The funny thing: anyone walking into my house would say that I’m both a minimalist and well organized, both of which are true. I can’t imagine how other people must feel if I feel like I’m drowning in stuff and most people that I know have way more stuff than I do!

Regardless, the issue is multifaceted: foremost, whittling down the amount of possessions that I have and secondly, shopping responsibly.

For decades, my mantra was that if it didn’t fit in one carload, then I didn’t need it. Those were the days when I moved frequently (college, Boston, grad school, multiple apartments, new jobs, etc.) and the thought of packing, schlepping, and unpacking became less and less tenable and remaining lean and facile was far more desirable. Somewhere along the way, I lost that sensibility, and it seemed to slide into my life around the same time Amazon Prime became a thing.

You can read all about the reasons Amazon Prime is a dreadful idea all across the internet.

For some odd reason, despite my being a militant, David Horowitz-trained and Sy Syms-proud educated consumer, and decades-long Wal*Mart basher, it never occurred to me to think about Amazon. Amazon was convenient, cheap, and magically, things showed up at my door. I bought in hook, line, and sinker for years—to the point where I actually had the Amazon magic buttons all over my house—just push to replenish, and magically a few days later a new supply of whatever I needed magically showed up at my door. UPS deliveries were, for nearly a decade, a daily (and sometimes twice daily) occurrence at my house.

And then abruptly, I stopped.

I was walking down the commercial high-street in my neighborhood that has for the last fifty years been a vibrant strip of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and realized that it had escaped my notice that about 60% of the shops were closed. About half of those that remained catered to things I would never have occasion to use: tattoos, vaping shops, cheap cell phones, eyebrow waxing. Where were all the amazing bookshops that I remember so fondly, and the t-shirt shop, and the poster shop, and the kitchen shop, and the little gift shop, and the stationery store, and the little plant shop/florist, and so many others? 

Vibrant neighborhoods like this one where my Dad grew up were once the norm all across this country.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks (and mortar stores). While I had been lazily shopping online and having things delivered—daily—to my door, my neighborhood and my neighbors who owned businesses in it, had unraveled. And I hadn’t left the house long enough to notice. How could this be? For the past 20 years, I have never set foot in a Wal*Mart, and I go out of my way to educate friends and family about the damage Wal*Mart has done to our economy, our urban fabric, our suburban fabric. How could I have so blindly missed the damage that Amazon is doing… and how much worse the damage is.

I was ashamed, and sorry, because I realize that the economic damage will take years to remedy. While my own city angled for Amazon HQ2, it seemingly escaped us all that Amazon is not only resetting the entire economy, but also eviscerating the neighborhoods in which we live. We likely won’t take full notice (like so many things) until it is too late. All of these observations were reinforced by the evidence presented in the amazing book, Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. The moral of his book: wake up and pay attention, because once it’s gone, it’s too late to lament its passing.

So, I made a solemn and immediate pledge: No more Amazon, I will make a concerted effort to shop at locally-owned shops. My first move was to ditch my Kindle and replace it with a Kobo Reader which allows me to borrow books from a number of local libraries. So far, the results of my life without Amazon are promising, I haven’t purchased a single item on Amazon in over six months, and I’ve met some amazingly interesting people in my neighborhood. The fellow that works at the hardware store knows a lot about replacing screens, and offered me some outstanding advice on how (and when) to replace screens to keep bugs from getting in. My friend John who owns Elmwood Pet Supplies makes deliveries, which makes buying food from him even more convenient than using Amazon. The lady who works at the gift shop, Neo, on the corner made some wonderful suggestions for a wedding gift that I needed to buy, and she wrapped it beautifully. Sunshine + Bluebirds has these amazing wraps that I’ve bought for everyone I know, and they also giftwrap beautifully. I learned that I can buy an organic, locally-raised chicken for my mom for only $4 at Stearns, which means that the only reason I need to stop by Whole Foods (also owned by Amazon) is to steal the packets of Sir Kensigntons Mustard to use in my lunch. (No, I’m not joking.)

So, all in all, I find myself buying less, making more informed buying choices, and doing more for my local economy. So far, a win-win, (except for Amazon). And when Amazon loses, we all gain. Be aware, your choices have consequences, shop wisely.

Charlotte

Today, I was driving to work and there was this big spider 🕷 that had crawled out of my side mirror and as I was driving down the 400 at 70mph, this little spider was getting really tossed around but was hanging in for dear life. He was getting thrown so violently, I initially thought there was no possible way he could be alive.

I pulled over, rolled down my window and stuck out my finger to help. He immediately crawled on to my finger and stopped. I brought him into the car and put him on my knee for a moment and let him catch his breath and get his wits about him.

After a few minutes, he started spinning a little web on my knee. We talked about it and decided that my knee probably wasn’t the best place for that, and I suggested he explore my passenger seat instead. He crawled around and found a very nice spot between the center console and the seatbelt clicker thing.

After 20 minutes or so of sitting at the side of the road, we continued driving. I commented how surprised I was that he a survival instinct and how difficult it must have been to hold on despite the wind. He made a good point that the wind for him, would be relative to me being in 800mph winds. I told him how impressed I was that he was able to hang on and he explained that the tensile strength of the silk he is able to spin helped him to hold on. Regardless, I found his will and ability to survive impressive.

We chatted for the rest of the ride and decided that it might make better sense to live inside the car. So for the time being, my car is +1 spider.

Unsafe: Delaware Park

Police and Fire vehicles like to zoom through Delaware Park on the ring road. Keep in mind that the fire truck weighs about 100x the amount of a bicyclist.

Shame, shame, shame. There is enough to go around in Buffalo.

Just over two years ago, Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed in a tragic accident in Delaware Park in Buffalo. His mother and sister were also injured. The story broke my heart, and each and every day when I run through Delaware Park, I say a silent prayer for little Maksym and his family.

The tragedy led to immediate—and unprecedented—political action by Governor Andrew Cuomo who downgraded the 198 expressway to a parkway and overnight changed the speed limit from 50 to 30. Neighbourhood proponents still stunned by the tragedy were pleased with the action. Later that summer, the newly qualified “parkway” was re-stripped, and crash barricades were installed along the park-side of the corridor. The New York State Department of Transportation promised to review the parkway and has since put forth a number of lacklustre plans that have been met with public disgust.

The problem is complex and it’s growing.

The first round of shame goes to Gov. Cuomo who scored political points for the immediate downgrade of the 198 and then never made another peep about it.

The second round of shame goes to the grossly disinterested, disrespectful, and disengaged DOT.

The third round of shame goes to the City and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Governor Cuomo mistakenly handed off the redesign of the 198 to the state DOT, which is both woefully under qualified and grossly negligent in its street design ability. Their significant failures litter the Western New York landscape and—frankly—make the streets of Western New York less and less safe. NYS DOT seems unable to plan, in any comprehensive manner. They approach planning as a street-by-street approach, which has compounded the problems surrounding the park. I could name a thousand examples across the region (and specifically around Delaware Park) but the dangerous concrete medians installed along neighbouring Main Street in the Parkside district are one example. These medians were installed with the intent of slowing traffic on Main Street. Instead, they have slowed traffic and provided an unsafe obstacle for motorists on icy and poorly lit roads to hit time and time again. The result is that rather than tool along Main Street at 30mph in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated motorists hemorrhage from Main Street to residential side streets to zoom by (and through stop signs) at 50mph in search of a “short cut” to their destination.

Vehicles race through Delaware Park ring road which is poorly striped and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A vehicle taking a short cut through Delaware Park to bypass Parkside Avenue.
This parkway in Estonia has clearly delineated lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Olmsted Conservancy vehicles regularly drive large vehicles on pedestrian paths and thoroughfares.
Few safety precautions are taken by the Olmsted Conservancy. Most activities would not stand up to OSHA muster.
A leaky Olmstead Conservancy vehicle left behind puddles of oil, a hazard for children, pets, pedestrians, and runners.
More puddles from a different vehicle on a different day.

This problem was compounded when much needed traffic calming measures were implemented to Parkside Avenue, adjacent to Delaware Park. Yes, the bump-outs and narrowed lanes have slowed traffic. Parkside (for a two block stretch) is undoubtedly safer as a result. The problem is that the parallel streets have become high-speed thoroughfares for speed-demon drivers in the neighbourhood. Likewise, since the traffic calming measures have been implemented on Parkside, the 198, and Main Street, speedy motorists have taken to using the Delaware Park ring road itself as a high speed shortcut from Agassiz Circle to Colvin through Delaware Park. Perhaps most disturbing is that this shortcut seems to be favoured by Olmsted Conservancy, Police and Fire vehicles zooming through the park to avoid traffic as well as private speeders alike. So, while we seemingly have endless press about ridiculous proposals to build a golf course in Delaware Park, the real issues of pedestrian and park patron safety goes completely unaddressed and unmentioned.

Problem zones in and around the park are circled in red. Issues with the 198 are not addressed in this graphic.

The re-design of the 198 has been mired in controversy and has been more than adequately covered in other fora, but I will add my disgust, disappointment, and disdain to the ever-growing chorus of Buffalonians when I say that the most recent public hearing for the 198 redesign hosted at the Olmsted School by the DOT was disgusting. The event was poorly planned, with three DOT officials sitting at a long table on stage while the regional director talked at the audience. The three adjunct DOT officials said nothing, as they played games and laughed at funny social media posts on their smart phones. Safety is no laughing matter and their behaviour was grossly disrespectful to local residents and to the memory Maksym who lost his young life due in part to their inaction and inattentiveness. If Governor Cuomo truly cares about Western New York, beyond a quick political score following an unspeakable tragedy, these three men would (and should) immediately find themselves unemployed in light of their callous and brazen breech of public trust.

Like so many building, design, zoning, and planning issues in New York State, the problem is a decentralized decision making structure which aims for granular approval but misses the big picture. Why not take a neighbourhood approach to traffic calming and safety planning? More likely than not because the streets in question are a combination of State, City, and Park streets. (County streets it seems, in Erie County are, for the most part and in sharp constraint, impeccably serviced, always striped, resurfaced regularly, and are in decent repair.) When the State DOT implemented traffic calming measures on the Parkside stretch of Main Street, the 198, and Parkside, the City should have stepped in and added traffic calming—speed bumps, bump-outs, enhanced striping, rumble strips, or some combination—to the neighbouring residential side streets. They didn’t. The City and the Olmsted Conservancy should have taken the time and money to add basic safety measures such as speed bumps and stripes the ring road in Delaware Park. They didn’t.

Central Park in New York City has clearly separated and delineated lines for runners, bikers, pedestrians, and vehicles along with speed bumps every 1/4 mile.

It seems that most every other city in the world has recognized that painting stripes is a cheap and easy way at calming traffic as well as enhancing safety for bicyclists and other motorists. Despite this basic tenet of road design, the City of Buffalo remains asleep at the switch with more road surface than not suffering from faded lines, poorly discernible striping, and worse—roads with no stripping at all. I mean, seriously, how much can a can of paint and some time cost? I remember observing a work crew in St. Louis—prison work release folks—repainting stripes and arrows on the roadways. Why can’t New York State enact a similar measure? Are the citizens of New York not worthy of safe roads?

At the very least, the Olmsted Conservancy should be unabashedly ashamed of their lack of action. Despite several grants to improve road and path conditions in the park, absolutely no improvements have been made over the past two years. Again, seriously, how much could it take to stripe the 2.5km ring road around Delaware Park? Unlike sister Olmsted Conservancies like Central Park in New York City, or the Emerald Neckless in Boston, the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy has opted for the path of least resistance and inaction.

The resultant negligence opens the city and the conservancy to significant liability when the next eminently preventible tragedy happens and is patently inexcusable.

Call upon your elected officials—state, city, and local—to make your voice heard on this important issue. You wouldn’t settle for a uncooked pizza if it were delivered to your house… why would you settle for unsafe roads in your neighbourhood?

wgrz.com | Buffalo, NY | Proposal for the Revitalization of the Broadway Market presented by Students from the Rochester Intitute of Technology

wgrz.com | Buffalo, NY | Proposal for the Revitalization of the Broadway Market presented by Students from the Rochester Intitute of Technology.