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Ban Ki-moon Shuffles Up to Buffalo, but Why?


Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, center, visiting Buffalo.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, center, in Buffalo with his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, left, on Aug. 14, 2015. Mayor Byron Brown, right. MARK GARTEN

BUFFALO — Last Friday, Aug. 14, the United Nations secretary-general took a “summer Friday” and spent the afternoon in Buffalo. Robert G. Wilmer, chief executive officer of M&T Bank, the nation’s 17th-largest, had invited the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to the city. The two met while Wilmer was traveling in South Korea, where Ban is from.

In speaking to The Buffalo News, Wilmer said about the visit by Ban, “It’s important to expose people from around the world to Buffalo, and to expose Buffalonians to people from around the world.”

Of his visit, which included a tour of the city led by its mayor and a dinner with 150 local leaders, Ban said, in part: “I really appreciate Mayor Byron Brown for his support for this cultural diversity — making this a city of diversity, accommodating these refugees and providing a lot of humanitarian support so that they can resettle, reintegrate as honorable citizens of the United States and honorable citizens of Buffalo.”

Why Buffalo? Not only is it one of the largest metropolitan areas situated on the world’s largest undefended international border, but the area sees billions in international trade come through annually. Buffalo also has a growing medical and technological corridor, with the top-ranked adult cancer treatment center in the country, Roswell Park, located in the heart of the city. Buffalo is, as Ban noted, home to a recent influx of refugees and immigrants mainly from Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

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A map showing the diversity of the Buffalo-Niagara region in upstate New York. WELDON COOPER CENTER FOR PUBLIC SERVICE

Yet, the Buffalo Niagara region is hardly diverse. The map above, created by the University of Virgina’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, shows that the region is actually one of the most homogenous in the country. It is ranked fifth nationally, based on segregation, according to a study done by professors at Brown University and Florida State University.

The 2010 United States census indicates that while Buffalo’s urban area is 50 percent white and 39 percent black, the region as a whole is 80 percent white and 12 percent black. In both sets of numbers, the next two greatest categories are ‘Asian’ and ‘some other race.’ Combined, these account for roughly 7 percent of each set. The general populations of both Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara region is shrinking by 1 percent each year, or flat-lining, based on the margin of error. The numbers would be much worse if not for the 5 percent average growth annually created by the number of immigrants coming to the city over the last three years.

In this regard, Ban was right, there is a growing diversity of population: new immigrants are stanching the loss of population as a whole. What remains obvious is that they are not being integrated completely into the thread of the city, an exclusion that applies to many of its native citizens as well.

On Aug.14, Ban associated his trip with the UN, saying: “For the United Nations, reaching out and having strong partnerships with the business community is very important. I’m very much grateful to Mr. Wilmers for organizing this very valuable opportunity of reaching out and meeting congressional leaders, the mayor, the business community and arts community leaders.”

By Aug. 17, at the daily press briefing held by the secretary-general’s office, a spokeswoman stressed that the Buffalo visit was a private trip, and the office would not take any press inquiries about it. Yet, nine photos of the trip were posted on the UN photo gallery site.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.

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Ban Ki-moon Shuffles Up to Buffalo, but Why?
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