By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — Once again, our fair city stands at a critical crossroad, at a major intersection where timing and vision offer a unique opportunity to make, or not make a key decision, a position we have found ourselves at more than once before.
Listening a few days ago to the lamentations of a few good ladies and gentlemen about the future growth and development Niagara Falls I was once again reminded of what our city was like when the smoke stacks were billowing with profit, the streets were bustling with shoppers, hundreds of people arriving by train, buses and cars from around the world with pockets full of money that they were eager to spend, and we were eager to honestly earn.
It would not be fair to lay all of the blame for the city’s economic decline at the feet of the men and women who, in their best judgment, honestly believed that they were doing the right thing when, in fact, in retrospect, they were not.
But, here we go again, faced with what looks like more “either, or” decisions about our city; decisions, which in the short term seem clear enough, depending on whose side you’re on, be it the Parkway, Old Falls Street, or whatever; decisions should be made with the long term consequences in mind with everybody who will be effected by those decisions.
Fortunately, there are lessons to be learned from good as well as not so good choices. One group who have examined the development decision making process, Donovan Rypkema, Principal, Real Estate Services Group published their research results in a paper I referred to last year when we were faced with a similar dilemma: Culture, Historic Preservation and Economic Development in the 21st Century September 1999, Yunnan Province, China.
Here’s how they laid it out; some of what follows may serve as a guide for those who are now faced with some of the same questions the city had to deal with before the city met its nemesis, poor vision!
Remember the damage that this conundrum inflicted on us? “Historic preservation as the alternative to economic development” – “either we have historic preservation OR we have economic growth.”
This has been demonstrated to be an absolutely a false choice; historic preservation is becoming a uniquely effective vehicle for economic growth around the world.
Smart growth, like historic preservation has moved from being an end in itself (save old buildings in order to save old buildings) to being a vehicle of broader ends — center city revitalization, job creation, small business incubation, housing, tourism, and much more.
Cities can build new landmarks and monuments AND identify and protect what’s already there, BUT Historic resources are far more than monuments and often are vernacular buildings. Groups of buildings and historic places rather than individual structures are often what is important.
According to Donovan Rypkema, “the vast majority of buildings of historic importance have their importance defined by their local significance, not national or international”.
Creative authenticity is an important element in sustainable economic development with several clearly measurable benefits:
• The labor intensity of developing and preserving historic sites and buildings generally means that there is a greater local economic impact in jobs and income than with the same amount spent on new construction.
• The local craftsmanship of the building process can often be nearly lost in a generation but instead can be passed on through economic development, creating jobs and skills simultaneously.
• Create locally what otherwise would have to be purchased elsewhere.
• Be compatible with history — bring historic buildings into compliance with modern demands without harming their physical structure or their architectural character.
• Reflect our unique character — be a community that wants to attract capital, in order to attract investment, we must differentiate ourselves from anywhere else in the world.
• Create effective venues for cultural goods and services — beautiful buildings and sites are the most appropriate physical locations for the sale and display of goods and the presentation of cultural productions.
In the words of a wiser man, “with malice toward none, with charity for all”, let us move forward toward our destiny with the future, keeping in mind our amazing achievements as well as some of our unfortunate experiences with the past.
Contact Bill Bradberry at firstname.lastname@example.orgContact Bill at email@example.com