An Analysis by Doug Draper
There’s that old line that goes; ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,’ or should we say the other side of the river.According to a story in a recent issue of Artvoice, a news and entertainment tabloid published in the Buffalo, New York area, the greener side of the river – believe it or not – is Ontario’s Regional Municipality of Niagara.
That’s right. While we on the Ontario side of the Niagara River often wring our hands over a shrinking manufacturing base, business closures and jobless rates above the national average, an Artvoice article, written by Buffalo State College visiting economics professor Bruce Fisher and titled ‘Being Right And Wrong About Buffalo’ gives an impression that when it comes to growth and prosperity, Niagara, Ontario is a land of opportunity compared to the Buffalo/Niagara Falls, New York area.
“In the Ontario region immediately bordering us,” writes Fisher, “the population is not only growing but actually outpacing projections, while we and the rest of Upstate New York shrink. … The numbers suggest that prosperity in the Regional Municipality of Niagara is spreading, that violent crime is almost non-existent. …”
“We have for decades watched a growing stream of Canadian shoppers exercise their growing purchasing power at Buffalo-area shops, and our Niagara and Erie County green-eyeshade types rub their hands as those Canadians supply between three per cent and as much as six percent of the sales tax revenue collected hereabouts, ”Fisher continues. “Manufacturing in the Canadian Niagara as a share of total economic activity is higher than in the Buffalo metropolitan area (and) tourism is stronger there than on our side. …”
Fisher applies enough brake in his commentary to add that “it’s no paradise in the (Niagara, Ontario) regional municipality where “planning looks like a planful mess as Fort Erie sprawls out into usual farmland” and where it is hard to find much higher density development “except in the concrete-encased Fallsview hilltop” overlooking the Horseshoe and American Falls.
Yet just the same, concludes Fisher, “growth is indeed happening” in Niagara, Ontario while on the New York side, for a variety of reasons that have to do with partisan policy spats, a lack of proper land-use planning, etc., “we don’t do growth here very well in Upstate New York. …”
Getting back to that old line about the other side looking greener, this Niagara, Ontario writer has had his moments where things appeared to be more on the upswing on the Buffalo side of the river where taverns and restaurants often seem packed with patrons, art and entertainment festivals draw tens-of-thousands, and late 19th and early 20th century neighbourhoods in the heart of the city have been undergoing a renaissance.
Then I finally take off my green lenses and return to the main theme in a ‘Viewpoint’ feature I had published in The Buffalo News in October, 2009. That theme was that communities on both sides of the river, in what former Buffalo mayor Anthony Masiello dubbed a “greater Niagara region” or “city-region” for short, are sharing many of the same economic challenges and should be working more closely together for the benefit of us all.
Indeed, this news and commentary site, Niagara At Large, was partially founded on a belief that instead of looking at municipal boundaries and the border intersecting the Niagara River as barriers, we should reach across them and fulfill our collective potential as home to an international gateway within a day’s drive of some of the largest urban centres and markets for products and can and should manufacture and grow here.
As for the way we grow, let’s strive, as Fisher discussed at the end of his Artvoice article, to grow in a way that is sustainable – in a way that balances prosperity and a decent living for all with protecting and preserving both our natural and the best of our built-up heritage for present and future generations.
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