Tonawanda News

June 14, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Spurring the project along

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — At a recent local presentation, an historian pondered Western New York’s proclivity toward mouthing off, then doing nothing, as exhibited in announcing plans for a structure or a project, coming up with an “artist’s representation” and having the plans fade into the netherworld of unfulfilled dreams.

Yeah, the historian in question was me, and the lecture came after a few weeks of research into things that were never there, things conceived but never delivered. That’s our self-inflicted reputation, out here.

A convention center was planned for Buffalo as far back as 1922. Broad concourses, á la Paris, were on the drawing board as well. The infamous Love Canal (the actual canal, that is) was meant to draw Niagara Falls water to power a Niagara County community of millions in a place called Model City. An amusement park, in the style of Crystal Beach, Ontario, was to be constructed behind Buffalo’s City Hall. A half-dozen suburbs were in line for the football stadium which was eventually built in Orchard Park. (You should see the stadium plans of that of Amherst; it came with an attached baseball stadium.)

The crackpottery of it all is breathtaking, if looked at as one failure after another. Cincinnati and Chicago and Denver likely have similar tales to tell, but ours are the ones that stick out like thorns penetrating flesh. 

The experience leads me to appreciate the value of “planning committees,” those bureaucratic working groups charged with separating the do-it from the screw-it. Turning a swamp into a marina, for example, is no place for a lone wolf with more dreams than investors.

The writer Garrison Keillor once explained it well. Those declines in the sidewalk at street corners, meant for easy access for those in wheelchairs, are a good idea, fair, egalitarian and easy to install, so the next time a municipality fixes its sidewalks it puts in concrete appropriate to the mission. It comes, though, after innumerable hours of discussion by people in groups, seeking an economical solution to the issue.

So we look at some intractable problem and wonder why the people who made all that nation-building and nation-saving steel in Lackawanna, built the Erie Canal and later Pierce-Arrows without computers or OSHA regulations regarding eye safety and figured out how to turn a waterfall into electricity, cannot construct a bridge over the Niagara River to supplement the 86-year-old one it has. (The Peace Bridge, incidentally, opened in the midst of Prohibition in the United States but not Canada, in the same year Crystal Beach opened its amusement park. Think those things may have spurred the project?)

Observing failure is relatively easy, but it blinds us to noticing the successes.

Try getting $60 million or so Social Security payments out, monthly and on time, without a little bureaucracy. In at least three communities in Western New York this summer, performances by rounds of geezer bands are scheduled, weekly concerts inexpensive enough so they do not compete much with each other, plentiful enough to sate the expectations of those who gravitate to that sort of thing.

Want to be in charge of planning any of that?

The past offers cautionary tales galore. The present provides few opportunities to examine how the successes occurred. Kenmore’s magnificent little Municipal Building, for example, was a union of need (the old, wooden one, a former school house, was on the verge of being outgrown), financing (it was a Depression-era W.P.A. project) and design (by noted local architect E.B. Green). Most of us, reading this, will live to see the building’s centennial as a beautiful, dramatic and eminently useful building.

A joke, not long ago, was that what we needed here was a “Museum of Plans,” a place to see exhibited all those projects that never went anywhere after they were announced. (Whatever became of the “Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the International Shrine of the Holy Innocents,” a proposed 700-foot arch in Buffalo harbor, which has a website on the Internet but no shovels in the ground?) A little research has convinced me a thriving city (and its suburbs) tosses ideas, half- and fully-baked, by the bushel-full, then awaits to see what sticks and what doesn’t. 

A Utopian community built around the waters at Niagara. A “Wizard of Oz” theme park in Wheatfield. A NASCAR track, I’ve already forgotten where. They did not work, but I pity the places that don’t come up with this stuff.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.