CHRISTY: Summer reading in the Falls

The more you learn about Niagara Falls, the more you realize you don’t know anything.

It is one of the most complex situations you’ll ever run across. Yet that’s what makes it so fascinating. It is a deep and puzzling maze. Nothing is as it seems. How can a city with less than 50,000 people, a relatively short history and vast natural resources be this elaborate, tangled and tortuous?

Let’s keep trying to find out.

Niagara Falls is one of the most written about places on Earth. Look on Amazon for books about Niagara Falls or better yet, go to The Book Corner on Main Street, one of the best bookstore’s I’ve ever been in, and look at the selection.

Still, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling read than the obscure pdf you can find online for free.

There is nothing more important than planning.

Action is a strong second, but since successful organizations plan their actions, planning ranks No. 1.

That’s why if you want to understand civics and participate in this experiment do yourself a favor and read the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Niagara Falls, USA.

It will make you a better citizen.

Some plans read like an electrical schematic and you can’t make it past the first few pages. This one doesn’t.

It’s engaged writing makes it a page-turner. If nothing else, you’ll understand why the roads around the Aquarium are torn up and be more tolerant of the process. It will give you hope, make you less anxious about today, and more hopeful about the future. It’ll help you understand this week’s announcement of a $10 million taxpayer award from New York state, and maybe make you roll out the welcome mat a little further for Bob Richardson and Blue Cardinal Capital, who recently invested private money in the same area of Main Street. It’ll make you understand why the governor keeps coming here time after time and giving the area so much attention.

These things are obviously important to him.

Reading this report will also give you the magic shield of knowledge. The next person who proposes a splash park, urban lagoon, theme park or other utopian scheme based mostly on taxpayer dollars can be more quickly dismissed. If it’s not in the plan, why would we pursue it?

Alas, all is not perfect. Vince Anello asked every council member if this was the governing document for the city, and nobody would admit to having read it. That was a couple years ago, so hopefully that’s not still the case. But city revitalization is not up to anyone but you. You can’t vote for someone else to do it anyway. “This document sets out a comprehensive foundation for revitalizing the City of Niagara Falls, and the long-term renewal of the regional economy. It represents the city’s program for renewal,” emphasis provided in the plan, not added. The plan screams city-focus and leans heavily on no fewer than 18 previous plans dating to 1992.

The Jerde Plan, mentioned in a previous interview, was published in 1998. Most if not all of these plans cost serious money, as they are the work of consulting firms like Wendel-Duchscherer.

I’m sensing your frustrations in the emails and texts I’m getting in relation to this project. A lot of personal frustration comes from not knowing, constant sharp changes and sudden announcements. Together we’ll figure this out, but for now, reading this document gives a much-needed shot of positive hope.

You can find this document at http://www.oneregionforward.org/plan/the-comprehensive-plan-for-city-of-niagara-falls/. Notice that this website seems Buffalo-based. Not all of you are resigned to Buffalo having hacked the Niagara Falls moniker a few years ago. That wound hasn’t healed. But for now, it is what it is. It’s also a time-tested document, and truly comprehensive.

It’s based on 18 prior studies over nearly 30 years with every expert from here to Toronto weighing in.

I dare say, from a planning perspective, we have our blueprint. I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this the investment constitution for the city of Niagara Falls. We can talk about amending it and argue about changing it - but this is where discussions should start.

“Creating the Cultural District and improving the quality and performance of the State Park system, especially the reconfiguration of the Robert Moses Parkway, and improving the urban interface to the park along the riverfront are key steps in enhancing Niagara Falls as a destination worthy of extended and multiple visits. In order to fully realize the tourism potential of Niagara Falls, a strategy aimed at fundamentally changing the visitor experience is necessary.

Tourists to Niagara Falls should be immediately captivated, not only by the Falls, but also by the landscape and the city, its buildings and the amenities that surrounds them. Niagara Falls should become known for offering a real or ‘authentic’ urban experience showcasing local places of character, remarkable street scapes, high-quality parks and open spaces, and excellent building fabric creating an attractive physical setting for an array of high-quality, family-oriented educational attractions.”

What could possibly be wrong with that statement? It’s beautiful. Sign me up.

The civics takeaway: be informed and well-read. If you aren’t reading or following the script you can’t participate. And passive viewers have no say in how things play out.

All of us are smarter than any of us - even more so if we can remind ourselves of the greater goal.

The Civics Project is an organization founded to further the education of the public to their civic responsibilities. For further information or to become involved visit www.thecivicsproject.org. Mr. Christy can be reached via email at tom@thecivicsproject.org.