A Tale of Two Cities

I recently when on a trip back East and visited two well-known but very different cities–Niagara Falls and Georgetown.  One was thriving–great stores and restaurants, a lively atmosphere and a steady stream of pedestrian traffic. The other was not just deserted, it was decaying.

First stop was downtown Niagara Falls.  Despite being within walking distance of one of the most amazing tourist destinations in the country, the downtown was barely hanging on.  Storefronts were vacant, historic buildings neglected and there was an overall sense of resignation.  Even the area immediately surrounding the falls was a disappointment.  Major projects–indoor gardens, attraction restaurants and the like–had come and failed. All that was left besides the empty buildings was a handful of t-shirt shops and pay lots. Even so, residents still spoke of a casino as the future hope for the city.

The state parks surrounding Niagara Falls and the nearby Niagara Gorge were wonderful–bike trails, hiking trails, plenty of beautiful nature areas.  It seemed odd that this huge resource was almost ignored as a potential revenue generator.  It makes some sense–Niagara was always a city of big industry so looking to another big project to save the city is an understandable, although flawed, approach.

What’s the solution for Niagara Falls?  The downtown area could stand a heavy influx of dollars, even in the form of incentives.  A block-by-block project with a dual focus of repairing historic buildings and recruiting small businesses would be the most reasonable approach. Ironically, it’s thinking small that will bring them success, not thinking big.

Niagara also needs to embrace tourism–in particular, adventure tourism–as a legitimate economic generator. Look at some of the small towns in Utah who live and die based on tourism and their proximity to National Parks.  Really, who would go to Moab if they didn’t have a big mountain biking culture and the scenic locations to back it up? (I think the best thing the state could do is turn Niagara Falls and the Gorge over to the National Park Service to create a large and instantaneous visitor base–but that’s not a suggestion New Yorkers like to hear.)

So what’s the solution for Niagara Falls? Think small and think different.

Next up–Georgetown and what’s going right for them.