#3 Buffalo, New York
(Erie and Niagara counties)
Background: Long known as a Rust Belt city where steel was king, Buffalo was hit hard when that industry went into steep decline more than two decades ago. As steel plants shut down, Buffalo was forced to rebuild its economy from the ground up. But by leveraging its assets, including a low cost of living and cheap, clean hydroelectric energy generated by nearby Niagara Falls, Buffalo has begun luring new, non-manufacturing businesses to the area.
Problems: After the shuttering of its steel plants and oil refineries, the region was left with the residue of its industrial past: A heavily polluted Buffalo River and acres of brownfields and Superfund sites, including the notorious Love Canal. By the 1990s, Buffalo’s dwindling population, shrinking tax base and fiscal problems meant drastic cuts in city services — including sanitation. As a result, huge trash piles often accumulated in front of homes, sometimes going uncollected for days on end. At the same time, Buffalo was struggling with a sizable rat infestation.
Solutions: With the help of environmental quality bonds and Superfund dollars, Buffalo has made great strides in containing and cleaning up brownfields and contaminated sites. Meanwhile, plans are underway to turn part of the former Bethlehem Steel site — an 1,100-acre brownfield on the shores of Lake Erie — into a wind farm that will generate clean power for businesses and residents. The state is also overseeing a Buffalo River cleanup, already successful enough to draw boaters and fishermen back to the waterway. As for the trash problems, Buffalo undertook an award-winning restructuring of its garbage collection system. A fleet of 13 high-tech street sweepers, deployed 24 hours a day during non-winter months, now helps keep the streets clear of debris. And the city has dramatically curbed the rat problem by distributing large, securely covered garbage bins to every residence in the city.