It was the best of times -- for Albany.
It was an age of foolishness, an epoch of incredulity, a season of darkness – for Niagara Falls. Tourists coming here, seeing a ruined city, ask, “What went wrong?”
You would think Niagara Falls had the advantage - the cataracts, the hydro- power, a famous name. It isn’t the people; if they are no better than those in other places, they are no worse.
It might be “fame echoing from a distance, rumbling like falling waters, menacingly, through all this space of time”: More know the name Niagara Falls than its master -- Albany. Coupled with the most celebrated natural landscape, synonymous with power, the most-heralded waterfalls in the world, is a small town, failing to live up to its too-big name: 50,000 people, down from 100,000, 50 years ago: “The Power City?” “The Honeymoon Capital?” its residents ask, in deepening shadow, “What went wrong?” It was the worst of times for Niagara Falls.
In Albany, some think they served this city well, that the fault lies in the people of the Falls electing their own: The unions, the mob, the petty bribe-taker who takes priceless heritage and sells for a pittance. You cannot control the mincing vanities and empty-headed giddiness of Albany politicians. The reason, for good or evil, for the decline of Niagara Falls - is Albany took its waterfalls - that millions visit every year, took its electrical power generated from the descent of roaring river, took its jumbo airport – the region’s largest - clean stole it, and promised to run it, then closed it. And, to ensure a winter of despair – even in summer, Albany gave, to gain a soupcon of revenue, a tiny, foreign nation called Seneca - the keys to the hunting grounds – the pilfering from petty rascals their gaming dollars. Albany gave Seneca instant wealth, and, surer than death, no taxes to pay – through the right to open any business – tax free – while people here paid to compete. The keys to unlock kingdom’s gates given to Seneca, and, in doing so, Albany gave Niagara Falls the keys direct the other way.
There is a great crowd coming one day into our lives - and Albany alone shall profit: this is the mantra. All through the cold and restless interval of 120 years, they whispered to Niagara Falls –taxes are not Albany’s remedy for all things. It can manage profit centers - for itself. Following Olmsted’s plan, Albany helped create the Niagara Falls State Park in 1886. A “garden in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of hope that sparkled in everyone’s sight,” and profit promised for all! A moment, and it was gone - except for Albany which made it an enormous profit center, and deprived the city of “spin-off” every other area enjoys from tourist- drawing natural landscapes.
The most visited state park in the nation- adjacent to a ghost town – across the river from a boom town. And Albany chants hypocritically, “this is an Olmsted park” – while violating Olmsted’s ideal to keep the park green and route people to it through the city of Niagara Falls. Before and after, they would spend money in the city.
The residents of the falls sometimes sat alone of an evening, outside the park, listening, until they made the roar of the falls out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by and by into their lives. Last year, the footsteps were left by the feet of eight million. Albany made sure it possessed them all. When eight million convene in a 100 days of summer, on less than 100 acres, naturally they wish to eat and buy souvenirs. Should they leave the park to do that and go into the city? Why? asked Albany: There should be stores and restaurants here – for our profit keeping. The biggest usurpation are gigantic parking lots which paved over Olmsted’s vision. Their planning is brilliant: the routing of people along the Robert Moses Parkway so they see not the city; travelers travel to the state parking lot, paying $10 for the privilege, spend $8 for the Cave of the Winds, $12 for the Maid of the Mist, buy souvenirs at stores in the park, eat a meal at restaurants in the park, then, after an average four-hour stay, without encouragement, without an advertisement for any activity in the city, tourists leave believing there is nothing else to do in Niagara Falls, on the American side; they leave on state-owned roads out of town or cross the bridge to Canada. Every tourist dollar spent in the park alone!
It would be a far, far better thing if the people of Niagara Falls positioned the fine politicians of Albany into comfortable barrels and tossed them tenderly into the Niagara, slightly above the Horseshoe Falls; it would be a far, far better rest they go, than they have ever known before. Out of simple kindness, Niagara Falls ought to do it.