By Chris Catanzaro:
On a recent family trip to Burlington, VT and various areas of the Central NY Adirondacks, I realized that many admirable aspects of both areas could be translated into “hot spots” in Buffalo. The immediate areas that came to mind were Chippewa St. and Canalside. The likely counterparts were Church St. in Burlington, VT, and The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Both areas appear to have recognized their relevance to the communities, targeted meaningful and appropriate avenues to showcase their talents and utilized the most important tool of all… involvement of public feedback/focus.
I have visited the Church St. District in Burlington, VT, many times and each time I wonder, “Why can’t we duplicate this in Buffalo?” The recent debate on closing off Chippewa St. to make it more manageable rang in my head as we strolled past the many cafes, restaurants, storefronts, street vendors (with allowable permits I assume) and finally street performers. They have closed off the main street way (Church St.), but allowed for traffic from streets perpendicular to pass through a highly visible crosswalk. The establishments were mostly filled with sizable crowds and the “walkers” measured about 100 or so for roughly four blocks. Everyone appeared to be enjoying all that Church St. had to offer… and we were there on a late Sunday afternoon (5ish) when most signs revealed a closing time of 6pm. Our local guide stated that this “slow” crowd usually quadrupled in size on a late weekday and was significantly larger on a weekend night.
The best part of all was that the crowds varied from the old to the new, families to couples to singles, the “grungy” to the “preppy” and all intermingled as though they each found their own place on Church St. After various conversations with our guide and some employees of establishments, the consensus was that Burlington, VT, as most of Vermont, provided something for everyone from “all walks of life.” For those concerned for safety on the streets, there was a definite presence of police patrol via foot, bike and squad car throughout our walk. Burlington, VT, boasted a few colleges nearby, a beautiful waterfront and a varied group walking the streets. There wasn’t too much of a difference between the geographic makeup of this place and ours. So, I asked myself again, “Why can’t we do this in Buffalo?”
My second adventure took me to a place that is one of a kind, the Adirondacks, but boasted a museum that buffalo could most definitely emulate, The Adirondack Museum. As soon as I began my jaunt through this gorgeously designed and redesigned museum, I again thought, “Why can’t we have something like this in Buffalo?” Everywhere I turned, there were aspects of the museum that would be great for a museum on our jewel, the waterfront. The museum was set in a picturesque setting in the backdrop of the mountains and overlooking a wonderful lake. Beyond that, the entire museum screamed Adirondack culture and history. And once again, the visitors were folks of all shapes, sizes, colors, languages and personalities, with the same goal in mind… to learn of the wonder of this place. The exhibits were visually astounding, highly organized, wonderfully described and best of all, highly interactive. I felt as though I had been transformed to the era of that particular time in history. Time and time again, I thought of the possibility to showcase our linkage to our waterfront through a collaborative museum.
Ideas of our canal days, steel industry, grain elevators, weather, leisure, travel and our overall connection to Buffalo history were only a few racing thoughts that I could corral in my mind. Then we passed though such exhibits that featured types of boats used in the area, the “old ways” of cleaning clothes and a vast history lesson of the region. All of these parts of the museum were easily transferable to a waterfront museum. The most astonishing part of all was that my family and I spent 4 ½ hours at the museum and saw perhaps 1/8 of its offerings (2 children under the age of 3 will get you stuck at such things as the giant Adirondack chair and the steam train). I do know one thing… all 15 “newbies” were ready to go back as soon as possible. It pains me to spew redundant phrases, but I was again relegated to wondering, “Why can’t we have something like this in Buffalo?”
My words can’t do either of these places the justice they deserve. It is my hope that the leaders of our community travel to places and walk their avenues that showcase hope, forward thinking and acceptance of their identity. Places like Burlington, VT, and The Adirondack Museum. It is the times that we are able to step outside our own small worlds that we can then realize the potential for what can be.