I watched the sun rise in Niagara Falls this morning and wondered if anything would be different.
From my house within city limits, the ball of light appeared near the $42.5 million airport just off Niagara Falls Boulevard, turning a black sky to pink before the atmosphere took on its usual blueish hue. That’s how the sky looks in most places, the sun rising and falling on cue. It’s what happens on the ground that usually makes the difference.
Something happened on Friday night that did not fit the script we’re used to in Niagara Falls. Something made the news that wasn’t tragedy, or at least a minor embarrassment. Some guy brought national interest to Niagara Falls and didn’t screw it up.
If you had doubts about the event over the last few months, you simply understand the nature of Niagara Falls. These sort of things almost never come to fruition, and are never as good as advertised if they do. AquaFalls. A Wizard of Oz theme park. Anything at all on land owned by Niagara Falls Redevelopment. White Elephants and dead end deals and vacant land. Endless crime and Love Canal.
Mark Byrnes of The Atlantic Cities asks a question I constantly wonder myself. The easy answer is no, it’s never going to get better and there’s nothing we can do about it. But then something like Friday happens, a shot of dissonance that’s enough to make you wonder how it happened at all.
There was Roger Trevino, of NFR fame, operating the machine behind the curtain to get Wallenda exceptions and permits and funding. The glowing praise Trevino’s received is almost enough to make you forget about all the nothing his group has accomplished with that Prime Real Estate in my lifetime. Looking at George Maziarz’s praise of Trevino is a good reminder that no flying monkeys are necessary if you have well-placed campaign contributions and a bit of shady ‘journalism‘ at your side.
The unusual nature of Wallenda’s passage makes for good contrast with the ordinary atmosphere of failure in the city. Failed projects and half-assed attempts to fix the problems that plague this area are the norm. It would have been fitting if Wallenda stopped his trek at the halfway point, pulled out his cell phone and called Paul Dyster to ask for additional resources to finish the job.
But it happened, and by all accounts it was as dazzling as advertised. For all the cynicism and social media snark about tethers and how boring it would be, Wallenda delivered a stunning visual on Friday. And the ratings were off the charts.
Even I was surprised by the allure the event possessed. I thought traffic woes and no risk of impending death would keep me away from it, but there I was in front of a television shortly after 10 p.m., watching Hannah Storm explain to me which side of the gorge belongs to which country. The camera angles were outstanding and they managed to keep the dead parts of the city in the dark while the power of the Falls itself was on full display.
It was awesome, and completely unexpected.
Parts of the event still held the hallmarks of unequal symbiosis that is constantly on display by the gorge. Wallenda departed from a dark state park with 4,000 spectators watching him go, fleeing across the border to the brightly-lit Canadian side filled with 125,000 people eager to host him. ABC set up shop across the way as well, taking advantage of the superior view to make the event truly shine on camera.
They were slights only noticeable to those that know the trials of a city like this. The spectacle itself overpowered the cynicism of many, but reality is often the toughest of things to forget.
Wallenda has a plan for what’s next. The Grand Canyon is already in his sights. Permits and television deals and another battle with that damned tether are sure to follow. Given the attention his last event received, Wallenda’s future most certainly includes a return to Niagara Falls, to further revel in his achievement. And maybe make a few bucks signing autographs and the like.
What he comes back to, however, is far from decided. There is no plan for Niagara Falls, no next grand challenge to focus on. The test is everything around us, the all-encompassing horror of urban plight and bad economics. The test is continuing to survive in a place so set in its ways of corruption and decay. A last ditch effort to keep the population above 50,000 is unlikely to work, and more and more money will drain from the ecosystem.
Wallenda said he wanted to inspire the world with his stunt, and he credited God for helping him get across the ‘Wet Zone’ and into history. Both are nice thoughts, but neither God nor Nik Wallenda will save this city. Something has to happen, something more than a few thousand people at Terrapin Point on a Friday night.
Maybe Friday can be the spark for that something. I couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that there’s no denying Wallenda delivered on his hype. Friday night may be the pink sky of sunrise, or a mere blip of light in the darkness. I’ll maintain my skepticism, but you can always hope to be amazed.