The image above of Main Street, Niagara Falls, NY, is courtesy Google Maps’ Street View.
We spontaneously dropped everything today and made a day trip out to Burlington’s Ikea and, beyond that, Niagara Falls. We even crossed the border and paid a visit to Niagara Falls, New York. We had hoped to see the falls from the American side, for a change, but we’d arrived too late for the light to be any good. However, we did end up driving through the city, particularly its downtown, and it was an interesting experience, to say the least.
A friend of mine, James Dibenedetto, told me about how depressed the American city is, but you don’t really appreciate it until you drive through. There is a significant industrial feel, here, and all of the power lines, not to mention the humungous power station might still provide a lot of jobs, but downtown Niagara Falls feels like it’s being crushed under its economic burdens.
I’d earlier described Niagara Falls, Ontario, as being a town with a split personality. It has two distinct downtowns: one for the tourists which, while well populated, is somewhat kitchy, and the one for the residents, which is somewhat rundown. But even the run down downtown had a leg up on the downtown of Niagara Falls, New York. I saw buildings boarded up, and a town that basically rolled up the sidewalks after 5 p.m. on a Friday. Hardly anybody was walking the streets, despite the various attempts that had been made to foster a street life.
And, to my mind, the state of Niagara Falls is even more tragic given that the city appears to have more history behind it. I saw some beautiful small-scale commercial buildings dating from the twenties and the thirties. I saw brick facades that addressed the street corners at a very human scale. If Niagara Falls, New York, could ever turn things around, it would have an inventory of excellent building stock to create a vibrant, striking downtown — something which its cousin across the border does not really have.
But crossing the river across the Rainbow Bridge told the story. The American side was basically dark, while the Canadian side was lit up like a Christmas tree. I realize that the Canadian side has the advantage of having a better view of the falls, but could that alone be responsible for how much they’ve been able to capitalize on it all? Can that alone be responsible for the American side’s depression?