By Seth Piccirillo
A simple hashtag is communicating a renewed confidence in Niagara Falls, NY. Beyond the hashtag, #LiveNF is a civic group of local residents focused on helping people discover and rediscover the Niagara Falls community. Through events like Niagara Falls Pints for Progress, public art campaigns, social media, volunteer fairs, and now t-shirts, LiveNF’s goal is to get people and ideas together. As the t-shirt reads, “Home Is Niagara Falls.” However, welcoming more people into that mindset takes much more than apparel.
Since 2013, there have been 20 Pints for Progress events throughout the city, with an average attendance of 110 people. As a modification of the Sunday Soup concept, P4P provides food, drink, live local music, and the opportunity to fund a community minded project. Any attendee can pitch a project the group, everyone votes and the winner takes home the door proceeds to make their idea a reality. We have funded everything from murals to a youth boxing gym. The projects and the funding are important, but the connections made and time spent are what P4P are actually about. In an era of social networking replacing actual interaction, it is encouraging to see residents of all ages come together for a meal, some music, and the chance to talk about ideas. Just as we borrowed the concept from Sunday Soup, we hope that communities around Western New York and the country will borrow Pints for Progress from us.
“A Buffalo radio program would even read the Niagara Falls police blotter as part of a comic routine.”
Like many rustbelt cities, Niagara Falls experienced decades of economic decline and population loss. The urban renewal movement of the 1960s and 70s destroyed the very fabric of historic neighborhoods. As more and more factories left, so did approximately 50% of the population between 1950 and 2000. The tourism industry also failed to grow as quickly as its Canadian counterparts, as focus remained on the shrinking manufacturing base. The city did not have a clear economic strategy or identity.
The city has had various rebranding campaigns focused on tourism as the leading industry throughout the years. However, LiveNF’s message is more focused on the Niagara beyond the Falls, and repositioning the downtown area as a place for both visitors and locals. There is a growing group of 20 and 30 somethings, as well as lifelong residents of all ages, who are proud to call Niagara Falls home. While breaking through thick layers of negativity and pessimism can be difficult, this group is proud of where they live.
Niagara Falls is a special place, especially outside of the traditional tourism district. We are not just any city. We need to keep proving that, to ourselves and the world, on a daily basis. If we want more people to call, and keep calling this place home, we need to tell our own story.
In recent years, changes have finally started to occur and become visible, with every year becoming a better opportunity to prove that change is indeed possible. Local business people are investing in new businesses geared towards a younger generation. The Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center campus is expanding. New York State is removing the outdated Robert Moses Parkway. A parole office on Third Street was converted into Power City Eatery, perhaps as the greatest example of the arrival of a new vibe. Eight new businesses have opened on Third Street in the past two years. A vacant lot was converted into Art Alley NF, a public walkway featuring 20 original murals. Formerly abandoned school buildings are being converted into apartments. Community Beer Works will join the neighborhood on Niagara Street, later this year. New apartments are being renovated and constructed outside of the downtown core. New home ownership and home purchase prices are increasing. According to the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, home sales in 2015 increased 35% from 2010, and the average home sale price in 2015 increased by 15% since the national housing market collapse in 2008. All of these successes point to positive trends in Niagara Falls, in addition to growth in the tourism visitation numbers.
Still, there is a great deal of work to be done. There are neighborhoods in the center of our city that have not yet seen this new investment and lack adequate transportation and access to fresh food. Within the community, and beyond the Grand Island bridges, there are people who only fixate on the stories of the old Niagara Falls. Tales of job loss, Love Canal, urban renewal and corruption. While we understand that history is the greatest teacher, we also reject the tired notion that we are forced to repeat it. There is immense creativity and resolve within the people of Niagara Falls, fueling actual change on our streets. That energy is what LiveNF is all about, and why my family and I still call Niagara Falls home.
In order to clarify its message and prepare for an active 2017, LiveNF has formed a Board of Directors. We are ready to keeping growing and adapting as an organization, welcoming in new people and ideas along the way.
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