Niagara Falls’ descent into blight—in spite of its proximity to an attraction that draws at least 8 million tourists each year—is a tale that Hudson’s little newspaper has been telling for years. It encompasses just about every mistake a city could make, including the one Frankie G. cited: a 1960s mayor’s decision to bulldoze his quaint downtown and replace it with a bunch of modernist follies. There was a massive hangar-like convention center designed by Philip Johnson; Cesar Pelli’s glassy indoor arboretum, the Wintergarden, which was finally torn down because it cost a fortune to heat through the Lake Erie winter; a shiny office building known locally as the “Flashcube,” formerly the headquarters of a chemical company and now home to a trinket market. Once a hydropowered center of industry, Niagara Falls is now one of America’s most infamous victims of urban decay, hollowed out by four decades of job loss, mafia infiltration, political corruption, and failed get-fixed-quick schemes. Ginger Strand, author of Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies, called the place “a history in miniature of wrongheaded ideas about urban renewal.”
Niagara Falls has something that sets it apart from other terminally depressed Rust Belt towns, something that makes its economic failure all the more remarkable: those falls, the 176-foot-tall cascade of thunder that is no less breathtaking for being your grandparents’ honeymoon destination. For many years the city’s route to a better future seemed straightforward, and it led to the water’s edge, where you could look across the border to Canada and see a brightly lit skyline of new high-rise hotels.
There’s nothing more shocking than the discrepancy between the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls.