Niagara Falls as you never knew it…

August Blog

Niagara Falls, Ontario is the most amazing collection of kitsch I’ve seen outside of Las Vegas. People don’t seem to have come for the falls, but for the amazing ideas entrepreneurs have come up with to separate them from their money. That so many of them hand over loonies and dollars to look at pale representations of already out of date pop culture speaks to the general level of intelligent thought in the general populous.

The Ontario side might be shallow and ostentatious, the American city of Niagara Falls is just plain sad. One huge casino and a collection of sad hotels and tour busses take up the first few blocks from immigration, and then the bottom falls out: broken down houses crawling with vines and surrounded by frost hove sidewalks. This fans out from the river in all directions for at least a mile, only to be broken by a golf course, of all things.

Rebecca Solnit writes, in the July issue of Harpers, of the decline of Detroit, (“Detroit Arcadia; Exploring the post-American landscape”) and other rust belt cities, and of the natural progression of things involving poverty and hopelessness. Detroit is the poster child for big cities crumbling from within, and becoming smaller cities. Niagara Falls, N.Y. is nobody’s poster child, falling beneath the radar of compassion, but it is undergoing the same throes of decline as Detroit.

It is a strange city layout that is produced by endemic poverty. It also seems to be about race, in most rust belt cities, big and small. Black people live in the few structures still standing, and in Niagara Falls, many of them seem to be holding their ground reasonably well, keeping up appearances, if not the structures they live in; they live in some small hope the somebody will notice their small city, see it’s decay and do something.

There are whole blocks where nothing grows but broken concrete, rotting wood and weeds. Other blocks sprout and grow reasonable sized trees’ perhaps a small forest someday.

The outer ring, out by the golf course, and the Wal*Mart, accessible to the poor of the inner ring and the well heeled farther, also houses the empty shells of industry gone, somewhere, somewhere, and piles of gray waste covered by a thin veneer of well watered grass, fake hills of what? doing what to the water table?

Wal*Mart is North America (Canada too) and we spend a lot of nights in Wal*Mart parking lots, snug in our little house on wheels, keys at the ready always, so far never needed for a fast get away, but ready. Wal*Marts represent the neighborhood where they are found more than any Arkansas Utopian plan, standard.

One, in London, Ontario, was filthier than any we have ever seen in our years of staying in Wal*Marts and the one in Niagara Falls was in the top 10 in filth. The rust belt doesn’t respect national borders apparently. I remember thinking how much cleaner Canada was than the U.S.; not so the Great Lakes region between Erie and Ontario; it’s still the rust belt, most of the cities anyway.

In the most of the West, and along the interstate systems, in small but growing cities, they are clean and the employees busy keeping them that way. The one in London was perhaps an old one, but the soil build-up under the check out counters was truly amazing; cigarettes, packaging and dust drifted against the outside wall. Perhaps the Wal*Marts of the world let their older, inner city properties go on purpose, depending on the poor to not care, or not complain.

Most large box stores are real estate holding companies really; they run a store until it is out of date, or run into the ground, sell the real estate and move further into the suburbs. They no longer build stores in the inner circle of cities, but more in small towns that can draw from surrounding suburbs, grow and appreciate real estate values. It’s a win win, except for the inner city folks who won’t even have a Wal*Mart to shop in.

But I diverge:

That donut between the “downtown” towers and the suburbs, is increasingly becoming depopulated, first by Whites fleeing the riots of the 70’s and 80’s and increasingly by Blacks who, through better educational opportunities and lessening of racism, are joining corporate America and themselves moving to the suburbs. Often ill advised government low income housing from the past has been abandoned and increasingly torn down, or as in Detroit, often burned by residents.

Now here’s the hopeful part of all this: The hardy survivors of this depopulation are discovering that urban soil is amazingly fertile and they are beginning to grow their own food, no doubt superior to the canned and frozen stuff they survived on from inner city groceries. I like that. And if they hold out long enough, they will own some very valuable property. Hmmmm. Justice can be slow, but perhaps will come.

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