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CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges

Last week I travelled to London where I joined thought leaders and elected officials from around the globe for the third annual CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges.   The purpose of the CityLab conference was “to bring together over 300 global city leaders — mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists — for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world’s metro centers”.

What I found unique about this conference was that while the diverse group of speakers and attendees had substantial conversations about such standard urban issues as transportation, public safety and infrastructure, it also considered perhaps less obvious urban concerns such as food access policy and what younger generations are looking for in order to succeed in cities today and in the future. It was exciting to hear these conversations in London because many of them lined up with our MutualCity philosophy at the BNMC. Our MutualCity methodology encourages addressing economic and social issues through a holistic approach that values collaboration. In London, I heard people take on urban issues from various perspectives in order to make the city and our planet better places.

Signs around London showcase proximity to local businesses. We are looking into installing something similar on the Medical Campus to encourage employees & visitors to explore our neighborhoods.

Signs around London showcase proximity to local businesses. We are looking into installing something similar on the Medical Campus to encourage employees and visitors to explore our neighborhoods.

One meeting I sat in on concerned food policy, and it included an eclectic group of about 25 people. Mayors from across the globe (Athens, Greece; Christchurch, New Zealand just to name a couple); leaders from large foundations (Bloomberg, Rockefeller); leaders of NGOs; and Jamie Oliver, a.k.a., the Naked Chef, were among the participants. Listening to these people was fascinating but what amazed me was the passion with which everyone addressed the issue of food policy. The message that became clear from this talk was that what we put in our bodies is not acceptable. (I recall the comment being made that even dog food has higher production standards than human food.) Everyone agreed that the key to refocusing the public’s attention on what we consume is to take bold action and to provide education about the issue in the most transparent way possible.  This conversation highlighted even more why a medical campus like ours along with others across the globe need to take the issue of access to healthy food more seriously. At the end of the day if we can be successful in this area, then there will be a triple bottom-line benefit: increased job creation, monetary savings, and most importantly, more people living healthier lives.

The topic of another talk I attended at CityLab concerned millennials and city life. For the first time in many years, Buffalo is witnessing a surge of young adults living in our city and for that generation and the ones behind it, access to technology is essential. Our children now live in a world where data and its analysis are more important than ever and people through enhanced technology have access to just about anything they want, anywhere they want. The physical places we create in our cities — whether they are where one lives, where one works, or where one plays — need to be addressed to meet these rapidly changing times.

The moment in this CityLab talk that was important to me was when Muriel Bowser, a member of Generation X and mayor of Washington D.C., addressed these issues. Her message wasn’t how the next generation needs to fall into line with how older generations have done things. Instead she considered how do we work together to build the right infrastructure to best accommodate people’s lifestyles in the cities today.

I thought this solar bench was neat technology that might be at home on the Medical Campus.

I thought this solar bench was cool technology that might be at home on the Medical Campus.

Technology is transforming our world in a way that it has made it easier to own fewer things, to work from virtually anywhere; to obtain a wide variety of things on demand, and to live with less. As a result, we need to continue to move forward on how we can build and modify our great cities to meet the changing needs of its citizens. It will take many methods and approaches, but it must be done.

The greatest impression the CityLab conference made on me was that at the core of the thought leaders’ decision making was empathy for their fellow citizens. This gathering to discuss solving global challenges with urban solutions never lost sight of the citizens it was trying to help and, in fact, put those citizens at the center of its focus. The focus was not on what should be done to get the next vote or sell more of their product but on how to improve the quality of life around the globe. If more of our leaders can act from this place they will not only win their elections and increase their bottom lines, but the world will be in a much better place.

A Shift in Perception

After-03973As I walk through the Medical Campus and take in all of the construction buzzing all around me, I begin to think about what’s been accomplished and what’s next. Something always comes right to mind as I look back, and it might not be what you’d expect. When I think about what has been accomplished on our Medical Campus, my thoughts go to something far more important, to our community rather than buildings: a change in perception.

There have been many articles recently from New York to Washington to Los Angeles about Buffalo’s ongoing renaissance. Those articles tend to focus on noteworthy physical developments that have taken place here — the cranes in the air, wind turbines churning, craft breweries and food trucks seemingly around every corner.

While those physical developments are remaking the look of our city, the true revolution is that more and more people are shunning the advice of “Buffaloathers” of past generations and choosing to make Buffalo their home. For instance, young college graduates have been rediscovering our city in the beginning of the new century in greater and greater numbers. Last fall the New York Times reported that from 2000 to 2012 there was a 34% change in the number of college graduates aged 25 to 34.

That said, I believe that the most prominent individuals who have chosen Buffalo are not millennials but Kim and Terry Pegula, and their decision is as large as any of the buildings I see rising up around the medical campus. They could have invested anywhere in the world but chose Buffalo, and it has helped transform the mentality of our city. We’ve gone from directing people to look for success outside of Buffalo to telling them, “Why would you want to leave Buffalo; you can succeed here!”CLmbf1GWoAAk_s3

As the owner of Bills and the Sabres, the Pegulas have gotten rid of the attitude that just making the playoffs is something to be satisfied with — the goal is to win the Super Bowls and Stanley Cups. To that end, the Pegulas have outshined their rivals and attracted to the area world-class talent to play and coach for the Bills and Sabres.

Our community needs to follow in their footsteps and draw more of the best and the brightest to our area. Let’s attract more pre-eminent doctors, more first-rate researchers, more successful entrepreneurs and more leading businesses to our community.

Buffalo has always had the assets and infrastructure in place to become a vibrant city in which our people and businesses thrive. It is our turn now to make sure we have the people in place to utilize the buildings we are constructing to ensure our community is successful.

CL0HJ91WEAAfY3aThis has always been a focus for the BNMC, our vision is in fact “to attract the best and the brightest”. A combination of world-class facilities and a reinvigorated community that people want to be a part of will allow us to do just that

I am going to start to write more regularly on our MutualCity methodology that we believe is the model to help revitalize cities by leveraging the economic assets of anchors. In doing so I will also introduce you to our team members who are the ones leading the way with the implementation of MutualCity.

Learn Globally, Act Locally

B2wFBoDIEAAY713.jpg_largeRecently, I attended the Anchor Institution Task Force annual meeting in Chicago where several communities and anchor institutions met to share ideas and discuss challenges they face in revitalizing their respective cities. It is always great to listen and learn from other communities as well as to share the work that we are doing here on the Medical Campus.

I left the conference optimistic about our work and the direction we are taking through our MutualCity methodology. Our focus on collaboration, innovation and investing our resources in areas where we can make a difference is working. We’ve seen tangible benefits in terms of building partnerships, engaging local residents, testing new energy and transportation models, building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and improving access to safe and healthy living. We hope that what we are doing in this area can help our city be a model for others. Over my next few blogs, I will be talking about each of these focus areas and introducing our team members leading each of these initiatives.

B9gzHl7IgAIFFFM.jpg largeMutualCity cannot be done alone. Collaborating with those who share values and goals are key. In many instances, the best partners tend to be diverse and often unlikely. It might take time to form and move forward, but doing it right is key.  As the African proverb tells us, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

At the conference, I learned about Chicago’s approach to neighborhood engagement that has inspired us to build on our neighborhood outreach. To date, we have had positive results with initiatives that connect local residents with jobs and business opportunities, provided us a better understanding of transportation challenges, and that have led us to create programs such as our recent campus-wide vendor fair, linking local businesses to those who make purchasing decisions.

IMG_9435This past weekend we implemented an idea that our friends at the University of Chicago shared with us and we hosted an informal lunch with some neighborhood friends to continue to stay in touch and to hear their perspective on neighborhood issues. It is something we plan to do often with residents and business owners in our adjacent neighborhoods. The lunch was very productive, but more importantly, it brought me back to a very obvious, but often overlooked foundation to make collaborations successful – trust.

What sparked this realization was when I walked into the local restaurant and instantly re-connected with Mrs. Davis, a seasoned leader in the neighborhood who we worked with during the formation of our campus, and Mrs. Ware, considered the “Godmother” of the Fruit Belt neighborhood. Our relationship has developed over the past 10+ years based on many conversations and interactions. Trust was built, allowing for opportunities to bloom.

In our society today technology is everywhere and is important. However, as communities work to move forward it is important to use technologies as tools and continue to rely on personal interactions and candid conversations. It is amazing what can happen when people talk – especially over lunch.

Moneyball, Collaboration & Thinking Differently

beaneOakkland A’s General Manager Billy Beane had a problem at the beginning of the new millennium. As detailed in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Beane’s team was having trouble competing with the other 29 Major League Baseball teams because it couldn’t afford, acquire or keep its best players. This left the A’s doomed to mediocrity (or worse) if they tried to compete in a traditional manner. So Beane didn’t. He upended the accepted approach of evaluating players and went a different way. The A’s found affordable bargains in those who possessed skills that were undervalued by the rest of the league yet once utilized by the A’s would result in wins. Many wins, in fact. Under Beane, his teams have miraculously won six division titles and compiled the 5th best record in all of baseball during the last 16 years.

Ever since the creation of the BNMC, Inc. in 2002, like Billy Beane, we have been willing to think unconventionally to try to achieve success. Looking at things differently has allowed us to partner with and bring together a wide range of people and organizations and has resulted in the medical campus contributing to the growth of our community.

The origin of the BNMC’s commitment to the uncommon approach all started with Mayor asking the obvious yet unspoken question: Why don’t we have a medical campus in Buffalo? Once we addressed his question and moved forward with the BNMC, he was one of our biggest supporters and promoted our growth when needed. Together our community has forged achievements that have established a great foundation for outstanding community and economic redevelopment.

The other key early occurrence was a $50,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation. This grant was made to examine the idea of creating a collaborative medical campus that would leverage its assets for the benefit of the community at large. This investment by the Oishei Foundation has resulted in roughly $1.5 billion of economic development on the campus. We are creating the new generation of anchor institution strategy as we begin to implement our mutual city philosophy.

The Oishei Foundation investment allowed the BNMC to build some early momentum but (we wanted to see if we could have a greater impact. We wanted to see if there were other ways to invest capital in to our projects. This is when we were fortunate to connect with the gurus  of impact investing and leaders of where the world of philanthropy is going, the F.B. Heron Foundation. (Take a look at their vision from their CEO Clara Miller). About 6 years ago Tony Martino, the vice chair of our board of directors, and I went to New York City to meet with leaders of the foundation to educate ourselves on impact investment. This day was revelatory as we became better versed in a visionary way of thinking. A direct outcome from this trip was the BNMC and Oishei Foundation creating the first project related investment (PRI) in our community. A PRI is a low cost loan or equity investment that involves the potential return of capital within an established time range. This PRI was a financial turning point for our organization, and we couldn’t have done it without the trust and strong partnership of the Oishei Foundation. We have done two PRIs to date and have completely paid Oishei back.

Most recently the Heron Foundation has been working very closely with us to become a lead investor in the implementation of our vision to be a robust, self-sustaining social enterprise that generates revenues to fulfill our mission. We believe that with the right capacity, we can have stronger, faster, and more widespread impact in the community.  Through this partnership with Heron, we have been able to increase our in-house expertise in key areas; work with leaders in sustainability, housing & workforce to develop impact plans; and gain access to other foundation thought leaders who are very supportive of what is being done in Buffalo.

Our collaboration with the Heron Foundation presents an extraordinary opportunity because we have a partner who is a leader on a global level in the impact investing space, and together, I believe we will be able to construct a model that can be replicated. The BNMC, along with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Heron Foundation, is bringing together national foundations to learn about all of the great work and to show all of the forward thinking initiatives we are developing to change our community for the better.  Over the last two years the Heron Foundation has been a true partner and we thank them for that. Hopefully our initiative will be able to show how their vision of impact investing can be implemented on a large scale to benefit the lives of people.

In the next few weeks we will have a guest blog post from Dana Pancrazi of the F. B. Heron Foundation, whose sage advice and guidance over the last few years has convinced us of the need to “think differently” about how best to fund, scale and replicate our model for urban transformation.

Finding a Home at the BNMC

bnmcWhen the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was getting off the ground I was man without a country. That’s not true. I had a country, but I just didn’t have an office. Oh wait, strike that, too. I had two offices. And that was the problem that led me to a better understanding of some of the problems of an entrepreneur. Confused? Let me explain.

DIG-ICIn the early days of the BNMC, I split my time between two offices: sometimes I worked out of an office in the basement of Roswell Park and sometimes at the office of the chair of the BNMC board.  While my wife and kids appreciated that I had a place to go to and wouldn’t be using the kitchen table as my desk, I was not as thrilled with the arrangement. Sure, the people I met there were great, but moving around from isolated office space to isolated office space made it difficult to establish sturdy relationships. To be more specific I lacked a consistent group of people to bounce ideas off of and people who would push me to do better through their shining examples.

Digg4To find the inspiration I was lacking in that environment, this man without a country, er, permanent office space left the fledgling medical campus and traveled around the country. I wanted to learn what others were doing on medical campuses like ours and to find evidence that we were on to something substantial for our community. These trips worked splendidly. In Louisville, for example, it became clear to me that we had all of the pieces in place to succeed, but we just needed to have them work more harmoniously. Similar lessons were learned in Boston, Houston, and Cleveland (just to name a few) I learned similar lessons that I otherwise wouldn’t have done if I had stayed in my isolation in the nether regions of Roswell.

EP-140319550.jpg&maxW=960Pat Whalen, the COO of the medical campus, is a very successful entrepreneur who has committed a great deal of his time to growing private sector jobs for our community and mentoring enthusiastic dreamers to help them become successful businesspeople.  He often stresses to me how lonely it is as an entrepreneur because there are not many people you can talk with when going through the ups and downs of building a business. Pat’s lessons really struck a chord with me after my experience bouncing between buildings as the Wandering CEO with no one to commiserate with and share ideas.

Inspired by Pat’s ideas and through his leadership, the BNMC is building out space on the campus so like-minded leaders can have the emotional support and physical infrastructure they need. The truth is that budding entrepreneurs require assistance such as this to excel and we at the BNMC want to lend a hand that helps them thrive.

Digg9One of our major initiatives we have developed to do this is d!g, our design innovation garage. Read Pat’s blog post to learn more.

Life in the City

Before I tell you about my recent move into the city, I wanted to share with you that more than half of the BNMC,Inc. team lives in the city. Yes, that’s right more than half – with many walking, biking or taking public transit to work. Increasing the number of Campus employees who live near the Campus is a strong priority for us. Our team has been working very hard on our current housing initiative. Ekua Mends-Aidoo on our team has taken the lead on this initiative and is working closely with BRicK,LLC to help ensure this happens. Read her latest blog post to learn more.

cfiles21085Fifteen years ago when my wife and I moved back to Buffalo from New York City we decided to live in the suburbs.  We made that decision because we wanted a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of urban life.  Our time in the suburbs was enjoyable but it became clear to us that the core of the region was the city, and it was where we needed to be. The influence of the city over our lives in the suburbs was becoming stronger and stronger. Nearly everything we did was related to the city. School, entertainment, socializing, work — they all were almost exclusively rooted in the city.

Summer-BNMC-Banner-copyOn the medical campus we encourage people to move into the city because we believe it is the people that make a community — and the city of Buffalo, in particular — great.  The more people that live within the city limits, the greater opportunity Buffalo will have to best utilize the assets it possesses. In its prime, Buffalo built an infrastructure to accommodate over 500,000 people. Over time the number of people has declined but the infrastructure is still in place. Imagine what could happen if Buffalo once again approached its past population numbers and reinvigorated its tax base. That infrastructure could flourish once again and take its people to new heights.

OlmstedDelawareParkMy family recently moved into the city, and we couldn’t be happier. We ride our bikes through a beautiful Olmstead park on our way to world class art galleries and then later pedal along the breathtaking waterfront. We walk to restaurants that surpass those we’ve encountered in our travels across the country. Our children have made friends from among the numerous kids in our new neighborhood and their peers share stories and culture from all around the globe — from Finland to Liberia to Peru and beyond.  And there’s less I look forward to on a sunny Saturday morning than hitting up the local farmers market just around the way.

Our family has been energized by life in the city. As nice as the suburbs are, there are things that are unique to an urban setting like Buffalo.  It shares some of the assets of a city like New York City but at a fraction of the cost and a multiplication of the charm. As many have remarked Buffalo possesses big city resources but retains its small town feel.

The BNMC is committed to encouraging the growth of the city of Buffalo by encouraging residency within the city limits. We feel strongly that population growth in Buffalo is what will make our city and region prosper as the core drives the region. Many hands make light work is how the famous saying goes; at the BNMC we believe that many new city dwellers will make the revitalization of Buffalo occur.

 

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“Good luck, this will never happen.”

IMG_3164 (2)When we were starting the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in the early 2000’s, that was a common phrase that we often heard while talking about building on our collective strengths and developing a world class medical campus. Our community had seen many grand plans developed (if I stacked the plans next to me they would go three feet high) with few successes.  Most did not believe it was possible to implement the big ideas that community leaders and the founding BNMC members – Kaleida Health, UB, Roswell Park, Hauptman-Woodward Institute, and Buffalo Medical Group – were planning.

So how is that today we have more than doubled the employees on campus, become a magnet for high tech and life sciences companies to locate to Buffalo, nurtured ideas to become new and growing companies, all while becoming a model in energy, alternative transportation and entrepreneurship?

We were not different from many urban cities looking to build on its strengths. What was different this time was our approach – support from a diverse mixture of strong volunteer and private sector leadership; a vision that, while bold, was based on realistic goals; a willingness for inclusiveness; a desire to engage the surrounding neighborhoods; and political leadership to support where needed and to take away roadblocks. Frankly, it was also a little bit of stubbornness to show all of those people that said, “Good luck, this will never happen” that those words need to be erased from our vocabulary.  Our common goal of building upon our shared geography and core competencies came together, thanks to the solid support of a local foundation. It was a powerful combination.

BNMC Staff Photos 0102 004 (2)Still, it took time and a commitment that, as we developed a vision and plan, we better make sure there is a viable implementation strategy attached so that the stack of plans doesn’t just grow to 3ft. 4in.  Momentum was built with small wins – from putting in new signage, to obtaining funding to create a more walkable campus , to building a virtual model of our vision together – that all started to build some much-needed trust.  The big breakthroughs came when ground was broken on the new research facilities where multiple parties collaborated to build something three times the size of what would have ever been envisioned in the past.

Since 2002, we will have grown our campus from 7,000 to 17,000 employees, from 3 to over 75 companies, and 4.5 million sq. ft. to 9 million sq. ft. of space to by the end of 2017.

Change is not easy. The resistance that we faced was strong. But our approach has been, and will continue to be, to think and act differently.  These successes have fueled optimism in Buffalo that we are headed in the right direction, and a belief that collaboration is our way to make our community seen as a leader in innovation across the globe, again.

I plan to share with you more of the details about the BNMC, Inc., our partners, and what we are doing to create opportunities and build on the optimism in our community today.  Moving forward is what we are all about. I will write about all of the pieces of the whole, and more importantly, I am going to introduce you to the leaders from our team and our partners responsible for making it happen. I am interested in any input or questions that you might have about the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and our goal to holistically revitalize our community together.

Matt

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Inc. (BNMC, Inc.) today is a self-sustaining social enterprise successfully combining innovation, job creation, and urban revitalization.  The BNMC, Inc. serves as the umbrella organization of the anchor institutions located within the 120-acre campus bordering Allentown, the Fruit Belt and downtown Buffalo, NY. The BNMC, Inc. fosters conversation and collaboration among its member institutions, its partners and the community to address critical issues impacting them including entrepreneurship, energy, access and transportation, workforce and procurement, healthy communities, and youth and culture with the goal of increasing economic development and building a strong community.

Buffalo on the Move

JC8_1528Things are changing for the better, from Larkinville, to the waterfront, to HarborCenter, to the museum district and hopefully people would put the BNMC in the same category. The recent Buffalo News Prospectus highlights how together we are mobilizing a whole city to change its future. We are also seeing  leadership step up and invest wisely in Buffalo, especially Governor Cuomo with actions on his commitment of $1Billion for Buffalo. This momentum is real, and it is our time to make Buffalo an inspiration to the country – and the world.  Again.

The BNMC, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization led by a dynamic team of 15 people helping to create a thriving place to live, work and play. We focus our efforts on things like cultivating an entrepreneurial culture, supporting the local economy and being good environmental stewards. At the BNMC we have developed a self-sustaining social enterprise that combines innovation, job creation, and urban revitalization. The success we have had to date is because of a remarkable network; a collective effort that includes Civic leaders, multinational corporations, local and global non-profits, national, state and local government, thought leaders, global experts, inventors, scientists, clinicians, academics, foundations and private investors.

Currently we have 2 cranes hanging around, with 2 more on the way by the end of the year.  We are very proud of the growth that has taken place over the years on the Campus (an additional 4.5M sq. ft. and 12,000 current employees located on the BNMC, and up to 17,000 by the end of 2016), however, the real opportunity is if we can work together to leverage this development and create benefits for the community at  large. The principles that we have built the Medical Campus on are those of collaboration, mutuality and that innovation is social as well as scientific. We are ready to take the planning and development that has taken place and elevate the conversation and implementation to a level that people on a global scale will want to replicate.

We recently teamed up with a National foundation who is investing in us to grow our capacity and strengthen our economic and social position as we redefine what is known globally as the anchor institution strategy. The approach we have taken has been organic at the core as we have focused and delivered on what was the right thing to do when solving the many challenges as we implement our four neighborhoods, one community master plan.  To make this happen we have a vision that will:

  • Deliver a community engaged academic health center that will deliver the highest quality clinical care, research and education
  • Make the BNMC and surrounding neighborhoods the most sophisticated example of utility infrastructure for the future, by continuing to build on our relationship with industry partners, and ultimately to replicate the model across the city and beyond.
  • Broaden the engagement of youth and the development of future leaders in business, technology, health and society, and to support the systemic change that Say Yes to Education is making in our community.
  • Have more people living in the city of Buffalo by Connecting all income levels to housing opportunities
  • Significantly reduce unemployment in Buffalo by developing better ways to communicate and connect people to opportunities
  • Help more private sector companies mature in and move into Western New York, and to make sure we have the entrepreneurial ecosystem in place to support their growth.
  • Change lives by instigating policy and environmental changes that increase access to healthy food and active living opportunities.

Relationships and partnerships are the real currency for success.  We are going to play our part at the Medical Campus. If we continue to work together and support one another, our great city will be looked at as a model for rust belt cities as we leverage our uniqueness to deliver solid social, economic and sustainable outcomes.  The time is now to mobilize our entire city to change its future.

Follow the BNMC and me on twitter for more frequent updates.