Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Reasons I've Heard for the Poverty in Niagara Falls

I hope to do more research on why the city of Niagara Falls doesn't look like I'd expected, like a bright tourist destination, if and when I have the time and attention span.  When I'm not driving through it or thinking to google it, I'm afraid I tend not to think much about how things are there; even when I'm at the falls themselves, the city beside them seems like an afterthought, a few rough rectangles of steel and glittery light that are the tops of buildings cut off by trees.

But it seems to come up in conversation, mostly brought up by me, as something that finally occurs to me after a few minutes of talking to someone who might know.  It popped up the other day in a comment thread from one of my Facebook friends, who was in the area, and seeing the same contrast, of city versus wonder of the world, that comes to mind for me from time to time.  That brought back the few things I've heard here and there, which are totally anecdotal, but interesting.

There's the business angle, that one friend mentioned.  Since the falls themselves stretch across the border between Canada and the US, with the maybe-more-breathtaking horseshoe on the Canadian side, tourists tend to go there as a priority, unless they can't or don't want to go over the border.  Even what falls there are on the American side can be seen more clearly from over there.  According to this friend, this Niagara Falls mostly made money from industries that are now gone, moved overseas.

Closely related but not quite the same, there's the corruption angle.  One former mayor went to prison for it, and there are maybe the same hazards that can come with any place where large amounts of money, in this case from tourism and the casino, are there to either be spent honestly, or not.  There may still be some lingering traces, or impacts, of the city's corrupt past--the funeral parlor formerly owned by an organized crime figure stands not far from downtown Niagara Falls, still unbought.

Then there's the one, again just passed along anecdotally, that, not from corruption but from disagreement, casino money owed to the city has not been paid.  It might not seem like a big reason on its own, but Niagara Falls is a relatively small city where it seems like targeted redevelopment would not have to cost too much.  Some investment here and there could attract residents, and the ball could start rolling.  More young families might move in, and it could look like I imagine a city by the falls looking.

But, with all of this speculation, I'm, first, immediately aware of not knowing anything specific about the city's situation, then recognizing that I have absolutely no expertise to say anything about it, and, finally, realizing that it might be, more than anything, a tendency in me to want to fix places I'm only passing through, which really is a way of avoiding an intimate connection with them.  If I say, "oh, I know what this city's problem is," maybe I intellectualize my experience here, in addition to probably being wrong.

Here's what I know:  there's a nice ice cream stand called Sullivan's, on Buffalo Avenue by the Niagara River.  It's a little bit of a bumpy, potholed ride to get to, maybe, but, if you're driving away from the bridge and in the direction of the airport, you can pass under an overpass and see it, the pale yellow of a few different great flavors, with light pouring out from under the awnings and just a couple of tables right by the street, so getting one feels like getting treated.  I hope to go there again soon, now that it's warm out.