By James Szwedo
President, Niagara Street Neighborhood Revitalization Organization, Inc.
HOW WE GOT HERE, AND WHY WE CAN NEVER LEAVE
As a lifelong resident and longtime community activist, I have been able to acquire a perhaps unique, but painful perspective on how a city with so many God-given attributes and endless possibilities could find itself, and its citizens, in endless decline.
The fact that we are forced to live, every day, with violent crime and
quality-of-life issues that are constantly on the minds of the citizens of Niagara Falls, is unforgivable.
We are forced to make decisions about where to live, and where to dine or shop, based not on personal preferences, but rather on the safety and conditions of the neighborhoods surrounding our preferred destinations.
We are constantly seeing businesses and restaurants, which have been a staple in our city, all closing, due to a decline in customers and real safety issues facing both their workers and patrons.
Businesses still surviving are forced to cut hours because, as
they say in the city, “That neighborhood just ain’t safe after 6 PM.”
As citizens, we no longer equate the “pop-pop-pop” to fireworks or cars backfiring, but rather to the constant shootings which have become a daily occurrence in our city.
Our streets are lined with potholes and debris, rather than trees and gardens. The citizens remaining tend to be the elderly, who have invested their lives and raised their children in the city they have always called home.
The ever-increasing poor and uneducated, the homeless with nowhere else to go, line our streets and crowd our communities. The countless hustlers and pop-up businesses profit from, and feed off, their poverty and current life situation.
Restaurants and grocery stores have been replaced with mini-marts, trap shops, and pop-up entertainment venues, which thrive on poverty and hopelessness.
Remember, a dollar and a dream, cheap alcohol, and now legalized drugs, have become the business plan for most new entrepreneurial ventures in our city. This allows the poorest of our citizens to escape, if only for a while, the quality-of-life which has become Niagara Falls.
Outposts are forming on Cayuga Island, parts of Lasalle, and the “good side” of Deveaux to hold the line.
So desperate to keep their neighborhoods safe, clean, and
walkable. Parents from the Tonawandas, Town of Niagara, and Lewiston, do not want their children to work or go out in Niagara Falls, for fear of their safety.
On the plus side, property values have increased in Niagara Falls, offering a way out for some citizens trapped in their neighborhoods.
Out-of-town owners looking to cash in on the name and mystique of Niagara Falls, come to find their newly-renovated AirBNB is located next to two crack houses and several abandoned buildings.
I have described, from my own perspective, what I see happening every day in Niagara Falls.
How we got here is due to the endless parade of elected politicians we
have put into office, only to be disappointed over and over again by their broken promises, which benefit only themselves, not the citizens of Niagara Falls.
The old joke about, how do you know a politician is lying? It’s because his mouth is moving. That’s certainly true here in Niagara Falls.
They tend to listen while running for office, but not so much after they’re elected.
Over and over again, the citizens of Niagara Falls stress safety, clean neighborhoods, job creation, and opportunities for their children as priorities, and, once elected, these promises and memories seem to fade into their own agendas, not to the wants of the citizens that elected them.
Some might say we elect officials to efficiently run the city, and not to change the lives and circumstances that the population has put themselves in by their own personal choices they have made in their lives.
Aha! Personal, individual responsibility is to blame for our city’s demise, not bad elected officials with no direction except their own.
It’s easy to blame the citizens for the circumstances the city is in, rather than the elected officials taking personal responsibility
for their failed leadership.
And, as for why we, the citizens, can never leave? The simple truth is, we shouldn’t have to!
To those of you that have, like me, chosen to stay and hopefully take
responsibility to affect change, I say, do not dismay.
You are not alone.
Changes are happening.
The next article will deal with groups and citizens that affect change for the betterment of the citizens, through cooperation, negotiation, and forward thinking. Perhaps the current city administration might want to read the next article.
As always, I thank you for listening.