As soon as I stepped off the train in Buffalo, I knew that this upstate city was going to be a great place to spend the summer. A trolley tour of the city reinforced this initial impression. The life that could be felt in the city, as well as this sense of community, encouraged me to invest myself in the High Road Fellowship’s effort to revitalize the city.
My placement is at the Innovation Lab at Open Buffalo, a coalition of community-based organizations working together to lead economic development and local revitalization in the pursuit of greater justice and equity across the city. It’s a young organization that is just recently getting off the ground and has yet to hire its entire staff, so my work is in close cooperation with the Partnership for the Public Good housed in the same offices in the Cornell ILR Extension. My main project is currently the analysis of the economic development subsidies given by the New York Power Authority (NYPA); however I also have other tasks to accomplish: updating Buffalo education and housing briefs with current numbers and new analysis, as well as updating and expanding a directory of researchers and scholars who work on issues pertaining to economic development and community involvement.
I was surprised to find that my short first year at the ILR School was enough to provide me a strong foundation to complete my first real work opportunity. The skills of time management and professionalism, as well as concrete knowledge I learned in my classes, was essential in assuring that I bring valuable talent to Open Buffalo and the High Road Fellowship. In return, I learned so much more from my internship than I would have if I had taken the same role and responsibilities the summer before my first semester of college. By doing research, creating spreadsheets, writing fact sheets, and creating a public policy briefs, I am learning so much more than just economic development policy analysis. I am cementing the coursework that I took, and truly learning what I was taught.
I’ve also already taken time to see the city and venture to meetings outside the office. With other High Roaders working in the Cornell ILR Extension offices, I accompanied Sam Magavern to an Erie County Legislature meeting where he advocated change in how the county approaches racial inequality and unconscious bias in the police force. The same day, I followed Lou Jean Fleron to a meeting of the arts coalition of Open Buffalo, and the discussion of their role in the economic development of their communities. A workshop on power mapping also helped enrich my summer experience. Outside of work, the area around Buffalo State is full of opportunities for fun and food, be it checking out the museums or eating at a food truck. Concerts, art festivals, and enjoying wings at the Anchor Bar, and hanging out with other high roaders help round out this fun summer experience.
Though it has been less of a month, I can already see what working in the field of economic development policy is like. It is a hassle to get the information and numbers I need to confirm my hypotheses or find flaws in the current systems, but I enjoy the work over all because I know that my work will inform other community-minded individuals in their own projects. Economic development helps all of society if done right, in the high road economic development model for example, and it gives my work meaning. I’m excited for what comes next.