If you live in WNY, then you are aware of the plight of Niagara Falls (the American Side). The Canadian side of The Falls is a bit of a boomtown. But the American side has been languishing for years, due to myriad issues (mostly political – urban renewal). While there are some shining moments, regarding the American side of The Falls, there’s a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately, along the way, Niagara Falls opted to tear down a number of its historic neighborhoods, in anticipation of development, which never came to pass. Since that time, the city has been left with a mass of parking lots, which has had a negative economic impact, of course.
To see exactly how this happened, Strongtowns.org has posted an article, that shows what happened, opposed to what could have happened. The article compares Niagara Falls, NY with Asheville, NC. Years ago, both of these cities were at a series of Crossroads, and both went in different directions.
In Asheville, the population stagnated for 60 years, but very little of the built infrastructure was demoed. According to the article, the city was so financially down and out that it couldn’t afford to level its urban building stock. That meant, when the tough times were over, and the city’s resurrection was underway, it wasn’t as much about rebuilding as it was about rehabbing.
The same was not true for Niagara Falls USA, which was left with massive swaths of parking lots (check out the article to see the before and after images).
If we look at Buffalo, we can see that we fall somewhere in-between Niagara Falls USA and Asheville. Thankfully we did not knock down more than we did. While we ended up with an impressive historic building stock, we lost a ton – it’s really quite sad. And we’ve only recently started to rehab what we have left, which means that we haven’t seen much in the way of infill.
Someday, when we realize that our parking lots are not as almighty as we thought, and we replace them with mixed use development projects that incorporate a healthy dose of residential units… only then will downtown Buffalo look and feel like other great cities. We’re definitely on our way towards that end. I just wish that it would happen a bit faster.