Driving Through the City of Niagara Falls
My first visit into the city to look at an apartment said to me that it was. I went down a road, maybe Highland Avenue, and saw mostly that gray kind of post-industrial landscape that's edgy metal plus crushed gravel, with not many other colors to go along with that--wrecked cars in a junk yard, fences inside of fences, and then the apartment complexes that seemed to be barely holding on. The building I looked at was one of those. The realtor who showed it to me looked like she wanted to leave. Soon, I did, too.
After a year and a half or so working right next to the city limits, and living not much further away, I've gotten to do a lot of driving around and through it. There are parts of it that still seem to be thriving, and none of it fits that sensational urban jungle my suburban mind tries to project on anything with a skyline higher than two stories, when I don't know my way around it yet.
But there are lots of parts that clearly are not doing as well as they used to economically. Pine Avenue is a great example. There's a nice, new sign reading Little Italy that spans the street, with painted metal grape leaves climbing its arch, and, at that end, the three or four Italian restaurants help validate that name. The Como has a sand-tan facade free of graffiti, wide windows showing customers and pedestrians to each other, and, in the entryway right by the street, pictures of the celebrities who have stopped there, with the scribbles of their autographs giving an old world kind of charm, and sense of benediction, to the whole area.
Not far down from there stands what, to me, has become the most vivid symbol of this area's decline: a pink elephant, maybe twenty feet tall, its trunk raised, a space for its eyes that you can see the sky through, not advertising anything that I can see. It holds a white metal cylinder on its head, with "Shorty's" painted on it, but there is no place by that name--some Googling tells me that it used to be a sports bar, but is now closed. Someone has left it there, either as a landmark or a sign of the high cost of demolition.
Past it is the part where I tend to drive faster, and, if someone walks too near my car, try to lock my doors without making them think I've done it on their account. Whatever was there before has been turned into the kinds of stores that my mind associates, automatically, with urban blight--a pawn shop, the kind of dollar store where everything probably really is a dollar, and those stores that I never seem to see for what they sell, that have windows filled with different things too bright to be bought.
But I also know my tendency to sensationalize places, like I do people, when they may be a lot more garden variety, and are certainly a lot more varied, than my judgment makes them. Pine Avenue seems like the many parts of the city that I've gotten to know, at least somewhat, by now: probably safe during the day, probably safe to drive through, at least fast, at night, and just obviously best to avoid on foot at night. It's like many parts of many cities, in that way.
But it wasn't that way a few decades ago, from what friends here say. And, for some reason, I find myself really wanting to know why.