Column by Bill Bradberry —
I must have received at least a half-dozen copies of Monday’s Detroit Free Press Columnist Nancy Kaffer’s critical article, “Post-bankruptcy, what does Detroit want to be?” (freep.com) before I had time to read it yesterday.
I agree with the comment, “… replace Detroit with Niagara Falls” that one sender attached to the link that took me to the prophetic column.
Some of my best friends, business associates and family members, including those who have scattered to other corners of the world, but who know my deep and abiding affection for my beloved hometown wanted to make sure that I read the piece, some in order to bolster their case that I should give up and simply walk away, that Niagara Falls is a lost cause with no future, and no hope.
Others suppose that I might glean some supporting evidence from Ms. Kaffer’s observations, that there is still time, still hope; that if Detroit can dig their way out of their situation, so can we.
Well, naturally, I concur with the later; we will find our way once we accept who we are and decide what we want to be; a position I have personally found myself in more than once in my lifetime, forcing me to start all over from scratch with nothing more than an idea, all of my worldly possessions gone; it can be terrifying, but it can also be quite liberating.
The question, not new to me and the dozens who have been asking it for the past decade or more has been beautifully framed by a good friend, a Niagaran now living out west near San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, California.
David Hodge and Hi-Jin Kang Hodge’s just published 170-page “Niagara Falling: A Pictorial Essay of the City of Niagara Falls” (available through The Book Corner, 1801 Main Street, Niagara Falls, NY) and an electronic version (hodgearts.com) containing nine videos, both offering “a beautiful and poignant encounter with the falls. It celebrates the natural wonder, contrasts it with the nearby city of Niagara Falls, New York, and considers the future of both”.
The Overview begins with the obvious, “Niagara Falls is one of the world’s most beautiful natural phenomena, but it enters this millennium burdened with human intervention gone astray”.
Much like Detroit, our challenges are in large part of our own making, and like Detroit’s can be overcome, but only if and when we decide what we want to be.
As Kaffer puts it, “Detroit has followed the automakers into bankruptcy, and for similar reasons: Falling revenue, crippling debt and liabilities, too much infrastructure to afford to maintain, a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and the loss of more than half the city’s customer base.”
Says Kaffer, “There’s a lesson here for the City of Detroit: What kind of product do we want to offer?”
If there’s a lesson for Detroit, there is certainly one here for Niagara Falls though our situations are not identical, they are similar enough to warrant comparison and wherever possible, the lessons should be heeded.
As she points out, “General Motors and Chrysler figured it out. Vehicle sales are back up, so are profits, and it already seems bizarre that just four years ago, there was a chance the domestic auto industry might disappear.”
Like Niagara Falls, Detroit lost people, “Detroit’s population has steadily dropped from its 1950 peak of 1.8 million to about 700,000. Detroit lost almost as many residents between 2000 and 2010 as it did between 1980 and 2000.
Also like Niagara Falls, she notes, “Most projections suggest that population will continue to fall, before leveling off around 600,000. But here’s the thing: A successful city of 600,000 can grow to accommodate new residents.”
Likewise, here, we will, no doubt continue to lose population before we can grow again, but grow into what?
In “Niagara Falling”, Stockholm, writer, Richard Cadwalader, in an essay writes, “A Half-Century that changed the American Landscape” admits, “Now we know of the many things we should have done differently. The question is: What should be our path forward?”
To answer, he quotes Albert Einstein whose observation fits both Detroit and Niagara Falls perfectly “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
As my friend, John Cooper, current president of the Rotary Club of Niagara Falls proposed in his message attached to the Kaffer column that he like so many others kindly forwarded to me suggests, “It is time we talk seriously about our city …”
I completely agree!
Contact Bill Bradberry at email@example.com