Where else on EARTH can you experience the majestic beauty of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge footsteps from your front porch? The hustle and bustle of modern society often leaves little room for the tranquil ambiance of mother nature. Cities built up so grandly like New York City recognize the necessity of have greenspace to offset the built environment and have spent millions of dollars constructing massive parks/greenspaces . We here in Niagara Falls are blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that we often take for granted. When's the last time you took a stroll on Goat Island? Hiked the Niagara Gorge? Relaxed at the Gorge Rim? Its right in our backyard and is a short commute away. Take advantage of whats yours and don't let all the tourists have all the enjoyment of our precious assets.
Imagine a Niagara Falls that isn’t fearful or chained down by willful ignorance. A Niagara Falls that welcomes new ideas, creativity, and risk-takers. A Niagara Falls that rises up to the occasion and blows away expectations in everything we do. If you attended last month’s Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival on Old Falls Street, you saw that type of thinking in action.
With recent improvements to Old Falls Street and neighboring businesses, the Downtown core is beginning to show significant signs of growth and progress. These improvements were on display for the thousands of festival goers, made up of both residents and tourists. Main Street Business Association President Rick Crogan and his dedicated volunteer team executed a magnificent event that lined the entire stretch of Old Falls Street with unique vendors showcasing their handcrafted products, tasteful cuisine, and more.
Throughout the entire event there seemed to be a steady flow of patrons exploring the works of various artists, craftsman, and food vendors from all over Western New York. The festival ambience was bolstered by the recent additions of outdoor dining accommodations by TGIFs and Savor, the fine dining restaurant located inside the NCCC Culinary Institute. Old Falls Street’s recent and branding improvement aided the effort to create a beautiful setting and an even better festival atmosphere. The product delivered by the festival organizers exceeded my preconceived expectations based on its predecessor, the Main Street Music & Arts Festival, which took place in 2011 and again in 2012. This year’s festival showed tremendous progress and provided a glimpse into a bright future for festivals in Downtown Niagara Falls. With a unified effort and a willingness to persevere, great events can occur.
Rick Crogan and his team had a vision and they relentlessly pursued it, never measuring the festivals future success against its past blunders. There isn’t room for ordinary thinking anymore. The dire state of the city is anything but ordinary and needs innovative solutions to cure the problems plaguing our community. Take a look around at other struggling cities; you’ll quickly find that what we in Niagara Falls consider innovative is actually a standard in those places. Mural arts programs in Philadelphia are revitalizing neighborhoods. “Pop-Up” art galleries are bringing life to vacant commercial storefronts in Chicago. We must begin to think BIG as Rick Crogran did and take back our city. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Reclaiming our prosperity and rebuilding our legacy as a destination community isn’t going to happen if we continue to think inside the box. Remember this saying come election time later on this year, “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.”
On The Job Training and Reclaiming Abandoned Homes: Learn How The Isaiah 61 Project is attempting to Transform Inner-City Neighborhoods
It's no secret that Main Street in Niagara Falls, New York is in ruins and is in much need of some new ideas, innovation, and fresh energy. Noted Downtown Expert Chuck D'Aprix has offered to visit Niagara Falls pro bono and offer some of his expert opinion on ways in which we can collaboratively work together to bolster our once thriving corridor. City representatives, community stakeholders, property owners, and others interested in participating in the revival of Downtown Niagara Falls should assemble collectively .and discuss/share our various viewpoints when he does come in February ... Here is a sample of his work.
WakeUp Niagara is seeking to bring together the creative minds of the Niagara Falls community ... Photographers, Digital Artists, Painters, Sketchers, Performing Artists, etc. Margaret Mead believed that the assemblage of a small group of thoughtful skilled citizens rallied around a cause can truly make a difference. This belief coupled with the research and beliefs of famed author Richard Florida about the creative class of citizens in a community provides the formula for revitilzation in communities around the world. Replicating the dense interchange of ideas a city naturally provokes into a smaller community can have a tremendous difference making effect. This is why WakeUp Niagara seeks to bring together the bright, creative, and driven young minds of Niagara Falls into a environment where ideas and innovation can flourish unhindered by political or self driven interests.
If you're like to become a part of the Niagara Arts Collaborative ... Join Niagara Arts Collaborative
In some cities such as Philadelphia, PA vacant buildings are turned from blighted structures into canvases for the creative minds of the community. Its Mural Arts Program identifies and encourages murals depicting the neighborhood's and community's culture and history both on vacant and in use structures. The murals add to the character of the city and help community members develop a sense of place as well as a sense of belonging allowing them to feel one with their surroundings. While there is a vast difference in demographics and community pride in the inner city neighborhoods of Niagara Falls, a Mural Arts Program could be an effective and attracting strategy to bring attention to vacant/underutilized structures as well as enabling the community members to express themselves openly. A properly regulated and rewarding program would identify, encourage, and coordinate unique non-offensive mural installations throughout the city including the business districts and inner city neighborhoods.
In order for neighborhoods and districts to become destination and develop a vibrant sense of livelihood, visitors including community members must value the area for 2 or more reasons. An attractive mural program that provokes the curiosity of people which in turn entices them to investigate the artistic expressions could serve as one method of creating the livelihood Niagarians so long for.
For more information, read this related article!
"Civic spaces are an extension of the community. When they work well, they serve as a stage for our public lives. If they function in their true civic role, they can be the settings where celebrations are held, where social and economic exchanges take place, where friends run into each other, and where cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – post offices, courthouses, federal office buildings – where we can interact with each other and with government. When cities and neighborhoods have thriving civic spaces, residents have a strong sense of community; conversely, when such spaces are lacking, people may feel less connected to each other. Great civic spaces are really great public places. They are recognized and valued in their cities and towns as places with their own special flavor that relate to and nurture the larger community and bring the public together.The rewards of transforming a civic space into a great public place go way beyond just the space, although the place in itself enriches the lives of its users and enhances its surrounding buildings and neighborhood. Great public places contribute to community health – whether socially, economically, culturally or environmentally. They add enhancement to the civic realm – not only visually, but also in providing a sense of character and a forum for public activities. They can be anchors for downtowns and communities, acting as focal points for definition and foundations for healthy growth". - Project for Public Spaces
In 1967 discussions began for the new construction of a new public library to replace the Carnegie Library that had served the Niagara Falls community for over 70 years. During the 1960s, numerous proposals were tossed around discussing where the new library should be located; locations downtown and Main Street led the ballot. According to the Niagara Falls Comprehensive Plan of 1966 – 1986, a location proximate to City Hall would be extremely more convenient for library visitors and would not add to downtown congestion during peak tourism season. Several sites near the current city hall location were mentioned but concerns arose over the land acquisition costs associated with such a premier location. There were even suggestions that a new City Hall be built as part of a larger civic center. In 1967, Peter Dicamillo proposed that a new City Hall be erected north of Pine Ave, east of Main St, and west of 7th Ave; the old City Hall building could be used as a library. Obviously, no such proposal was ever acted on and the Earl W. Brydges library designed by architect Paul Rudolph opened on March 9, 1974 at 1425 Main Street; a considerable distance from the proposed civic center adjacent to City Hall. Queen Victoria Pa Looking back on these events, would Paul Rudolph’s library made sense being located adjacent to city hall and included in a beautiful civic center on Main Street? Do you think this relocation into a civic center would have created a better sense of community in Niagara Falls? Would it have affected the decline of Main Street? Just imagine the architectural uniqueness of such a civic center and public space in Niagara Falls. The landmark City Hall with its Beaux Arts style embodying Neo-Classical Revival architecture paired together with the French Neoclassical style of the Niagara Falls Post Office would have anchored a magnificent public space on Main Street. Other civic buildings such as the courthouse and the library strategically constructed around a beautiful park or the natural beauty of the Niagara Gorge would’ve given Niagara Falls a truly unique space justly warranted by its location as one of the natural wonders of the world.
Public spaces are incredibly influential in developing a city's identity. Without great public places, there would be no great cities. Take New York City for example where millions of people visit Rockefeller Center to watch the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree or to stand outside NBC studios hoping to be seen on The Today Show. Take a look across the border where our Canadian counterparts in Niagara Falls, Ontario have developed a unique public realm at Queen Victoria Park and Clifton Hill that attract millions of visitors annually. Does Niagara Falls, New York have a place that represents it and gives it an identity other than the Falls? If plans of great public spaces count then absolutely Yes! Just take a look at the 2009 Comprehensive Plan that identifies numerous spaces including the Cultural District in Downtown Niagara Falls that would create an identity for the city. Old Falls Street with its beautiful vistas and its unique location connecting the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel with the entrance of Niagara Falls State Park is an emerging public space capable of giving the city an identity much like Rockefeller Center has for New York City. Will it continue to grow and enhance the identity of our beloved city?
Visit Project for Public Spaces to learn more about the economic, social, and cultural benefits of great civic centers as great public spaces!