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GUEST VIEW By Colleen Kulikowski

Niagara Falls has a systemic problem that has been handed down generation to generation with lots of finger-pointing and negative talk. If we don't love our city, how can we expect that anyone else would love it? Simple laws of attraction say that you will attract what you are thinking. I say the residents of Niagara Falls need to change their thinking, and fast, in order to save this city.

I had an opportunity to play tourist on the West Coast over 22 days last month. With each new city, I saw what Niagara Falls needs more clearly. As I met new people, I told them I was from Niagara Falls, and more often than not the first thing out of their mouth was, "I hear the Canadian side is so much nicer than the American," or "Can you recommend a place to stay on the Canadian side?" Makes you a little mad, doesn't it?

My first stop was in San Francisco. I shipped a couple cases of wine to share with friends along the way from Marjim Manor and Arrowhead Wineries. My friends loved the variety, and in return my hosts showed me their wineries and tourist destinations.

I had the first "aha" moment while strolling through an art exhibit. There needs to be a place in Niagara Falls where world-class art exhibits can be brought in and seen by many people. I willingly paid $26 to see a Picasso exhibit that had hundreds of people waiting in line.

Arguments are easy, but just imagine what Niagara Falls would be if we had such an incredible place to gather. While I am thinking of it, a world-class concert hall would be a wonderful addition to the spectacular Rapids Theatre on Main Street.

Next stop was Seattle. The people of Seattle love what they have and they promote it everywhere. I saw all these great little coffee businesses, each one providing unique coffee experiences. Forget Starbucks -- the small mom-and-pop coffee providers rocked it! They didn't sit there and complain that Starbucks has a huge marketing budget, they provided a service that was different and created customer loyalty. They didn't wait for someone to fund it, they found a way and forged a trail.

In Bend, Ore., I saw nature's beauty. I saw how the locals love their surroundings. They know their history and are proud of it. They know the mountains, rivers, animals and birds. Every town I drove through, there was a giant welcoming sign from the local Chamber of Commerce. Their economy is dependent on tourism and they roll out the red carpet for visitors. If you get out there, have dinner at the Cowboy Dinner Tree. Who knew that only two choices for dinner could be so good?

In Eugene, Ore., I checked out Hayward Field. If you are into running, you would know all about this location and its ties to Nike. Just do it. Need I say more?

Portland, Ore., brought another interesting surprise on what was a vacant corner lot. There were a half-dozen food trucks providing a variety of affordable dining experiences with a shared dining area of picnic benches. It was an experience I won't forget.

Back in California, I went to San Jose, where there was a cornucopia of experiences, something that surprised me, coming from Silicon Valley. When you think of the Silicon Valley, you think of technology companies, but the Valley of Hearts Delight is all things that would fill a cornucopia. They actively go about their business, creating unique experiences and not worried about what others are doing. They have an amazing landscape of farms and wineries, rich in history. Sound familiar?

The future of Niagara Falls could be improved, that is not disputed. It starts with a shift in what and how we are thinking. We have to stop complaining that someone else is holding Niagara Falls back, or waiting for someone else to save this community. We need to just do it! The people of Niagara Falls need to stop finding the reasons why we can't do something remarkable with our city. All the complaining and negativity will only bring us more misery. I think that we have had enough of that.

(Colleen Kulikowski is founder of Niagara Homecoming.)

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 18, 2011