HAMILTON: “Honey, I shrunk the city!”

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By: Ken Hamilton

It doesn’t take a whole bunch of brains to figure out what is wrong with Niagara Falls; and if it did, then we couldn’t figure it out anyway because we don’t have a whole bunch of brains here. Really, we don’t; and it is no single person’s fault.

They call it Facebook, and it is social media; but sometimes, just sometimes, it actually functions as a Face the Nation-type media, thankfully, in some cases it is a Face the City-type format, where city officials are actually invited to challenge the public perceptions of what they are or are not doing. Few politicians actually participate, and, on the surface, it normally has little effect.

How could it when most people don’t really know how things are supposed to work and how they actually don’t work.  And here’s the rub; they tend to elect people just like themselves who know little more than themselves and then they insist upon the politically incestuous practice of residency. The results are predictable. Do you really think that if we were dumb enough to get ourselves into this predicament that we have the brains to get ourselves out of it?

The Buffalo News just ran a story about how Erie and Niagara counties are actually losing population. The story by Caitlin Dewey and Thomas J. Prohaska is titled “Why is Buffalo Niagara shrinking when Erie is growing? Look to Niagara County.”

In combining what I read on the story in the News, and the news that I got from the Facebook page, I would as well let it have been written by that Disney that we have longed-for, and let Rick Moranis starred in our version of, “Honey, I shrunk the city.”

The difference is that the Disney movie had a plot for the ending even before they actually purchased the script.  In Niagara County’s case, and especially Niagara Falls, we just prodded and plotted our way to where we are – and honestly, it’s no one person’s fault.

I don’t know Caitlin Dewey, but I have known Prohaska for decades.  He is a pretty upstanding guy and a heck of a good writer.  However, writing about government is a lot like writing a restaurant review, and doing so without ever working in the slaughterhouse from where came that sizzling steak.

I say that because the differences between the slight growth of Erie County as opposed to Niagara County’s ebbing population has as much to do with bridges as it does with brains; but what Erie has that Niagara doesn’t is indeed brains; and not just brains, it has the brain trust.

Buffalo’s school district has the worst high schools in the 8 counties of western New York, all while having one of the best high schools in the nation among those terrible schools. I’ll bet that you’ll never guess whose kids go there.

There are 18 colleges within 50-miles of Buffalo NY; 9-are actually in Buffalo. There are but two schools of higher learning in Niagara County, and one of their campuses, a culinary school, is in Niagara Falls itself.

And there are millionaires in both Buffalo and Niagara Falls. But where are the billionaires in Niagara Falls? And what do we do with their representatives that are here.

Sadly, one of Buffalo’s wisest men has recently died. I was at a Washington DC/HUD-sponsored Smart Growth seminar at the Burchfield-Penney at Buffalo State College some years ago, when then M&T banker and billionaire Robert “Bob” Wilmers patiently listened to  young G-men who likely hadn’t ever built anything except perhaps putting together some Ikea kit furniture, was telling Buffalonians how to smartly grow their city.  When they had finished, Wilmers chimed in that we don’t have to worry about growing smartly, Buffalo, is shrinking; what we need to do is to right-size the city.

I have heard few words wiser than those of Wilmers. It all reminded me of the cookouts that we used to have in the welding shop at Trott Vocational High School, where then welding teacher Steve Polniak would buy hefty strip beefsteaks for his students and a small tenderloin for himself. I laughed how his meat was smaller than the rest of ours, and he tried to explain that quality trumped quantity, but I didn’t understand until years later when I had my first tenderloin – and he was right.

But we don’t have to be billionaires to do what Buffalo is doing – outsourcing its poverty to communities like ours; all that we have to do is to think like billionaires and, if Niagara County is shrinking, and Niagara Falls all the more, then let’s just learn to make sure that we are “right-sizing” in a way that cuts our costs and makes us the tenderloin of western New York.  It is then that we can proudly say, “Honey, I shrunk the city!”


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