HAMILTON: Hyde Park or “Died Park” Should be a Public Decision

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By: Ken Hamilton

What is this preoccupation that Niagara Falls citizens have with death; and is this preoccupation the reason that the city is also dying?

If someone were to come down Porter Road, instead of down Pine Avenue, and then turned onto the Robbins Drive that winds its way through what is believed to be the 2nd largest city park in the state, they could easily think that they had arrived at the road to St. Joseph’s Cemetery.  That is because of the amount of decorated memorial trees that line that meandering and once placid stretch of road.  It all begs the higher-level question of, “Is Niagara Falls dying less by the decades-long mistakes made in both the voting booths and city hall, or just as much by our city’s morbid preoccupation that so many of our citizens have with celebrating death?”



Don’t get me wrong, please. Upon coming to town to start a business, Louisianan Geoff Jenkins pointed out to me that he had never seen a group of people who are more dedicated to helping each other as are the common Niagaran citizen.  He attributed that, he said, to the number of basket auctions that we have in and around the city, helping those who have fallen on hard times.  The man should know, as he has lived on the Gulf, the West and the East Coast.  And that is a good thing.

But, on the other hand, such basket auctions are usually given around the theme of an impending tragedy — often to prevent a death; and the love and attention is well given and received.  But nonetheless, there still remains the morbid element of death.

And don’t get me going on the candlelit and Bible-thumping citizens who hovel around telephone poles and street corners where often a nary-do-well meets the consequences of their own bad decisions.  Fortunately, these events are rare – made rarer still by the great job that trauma hospitals like Erie County Medical Center do to actually preserve such lives. And I think that the number of citizens that attend such ceremonies adds support to my contention of our fascination with death more so than life; especially when compared to the few or any of those citizens ever choosing to stand outside of a local abortion clinic or hospital where between 500 – 600 of Niagara County’s babies are intentionally killed in their mother’s wombs.



Everything in its time and place, I suppose; but a couple of years ago, a young man was reportedly on his cell phone one night while speeding up Pine Avenue.  He drove into a sign and flagpole onto the property at Hyde Park that city council set aside for the development of the American Veterans Monuments.  Sadly, the young man died.  I could understand his family and friends grieving as on the next night I drove by their candlelight vigil beneath a nearby tree that they had adorned with trinkets of love.  As a commissioner of that section of the park, I felt both bad and compelled to have the adornments removed.  But now seeing what has become of Robbins Drive, I feel worse still for having done so – as I feel badly in it being necessary for me to point out that Hyde Park is a public park and not anyone’s personal depository for the ashes of their loved ones.  That’s what cemeteries are for, and the reason that they are called memorial gardens. Why must city workers, already working within their strained budgets, have to work much more carefully in mowing around people’s personal monuments rather than being able to just doing their job.

It is my belief that ‘the best governments’ are ones that do nothing for the individual citizen that it can’t do for every such citizen, and that was the very purpose that the veterans monument sought to ensure – every veteran equally remembered and remembered together.  That’s also what family plots and mausoleums are for, and not what the scores of very distracting roadside memorials actually do.  And what happens when one of those Robbins Drive trees has to be cut down?



While Councilwoman Kristin Grandinetti and I often disagreed on many policy issues, she and I agreed that the best memorials to traffic accidents and others who tragically died along city streets shouldn’t be burning candles left unattended, rain-soaked teddy bears, deflating balloons and empty alcoholic beverage bottles on the city public right of ways as though they are a person’s personal properties. We came up with a plan to allow people to purchase standard signs with the person’s name on it, much like the Adopt-a-Highway ones, where with their commitment to keep the block clean and cared for upon which the event occurred, people can commemorate the lives – not the deaths – of their loved ones with the small and stock sign.  In other words, the person performs a public good; not just a personal one. I have to finish that project as well.

Again, of the nearly tw0-dozen such trees along Robbins Drive, argument can be made that each person honored was indeed an honorable person; but I know of only one who provided a public service, and that one is the type of person who should be honored on public property.

But the even bigger picture is still that as long as we Niagarans celebrate death to the degree that we do, the what was, more than we celebrate life and the what could be – like the birth of a child, we will always be a shrinking and dying, self-serving city.  Perhaps city council can take the first step in changing that by passing an ordinance making it against the law to dispose of cremation remains on any public property within its jurisdiction, and an ordinance that forbids the practice without written permission of the property owner.  That should help to keep its right of ways looking inviting for our millions of visitors and caring residents.

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