Monday, July 23, 2012

Old vs New - The Saga of the Peace Bridge Houses

My grandmothers were about the same age, but led different lifestyles and had opposite opinions when it came to the subject of old versus new.

On one side of the family, that grandmother enjoyed rescuing antiques and refinishing them to their former glory. Interestingly enough,that grandfather enjoyed emerging technologies and they had an early color television., even though they were not wealthy. They respected the role of their past, but were not adverse to looking towards the future.

On the other side, my paternal grandfather was very, very frugal. This translated into that grandmother using a wood-burning stove into the 1970's. While it may horrify those into all things rustic, as soon as that grandfather died, grandma threw out that stove, along with the wringer washer, and other way out-dated appliances.  They represented "old", and she was eager to move on. No nostalgia there, because for her, it had not been an option.

Sometimes it seems that the current and long standing debate about the Peace Bridge area and the houses that have been left to rot is a lot like that...those who see beauty in things and places that have existed before the current generation (or early in one's own life), and those who have nothing but scorn for all things that are not shiny new, like they had been forced to wear second hand or homemade clothes growing up and are now hell bent on being consumers of the new, no matter what the price in heritage or real dollars.

All of that brings me to the saga of the Peace Bridge houses. I totally get that people outside the City may not care, either because it's not their backyard, or because thinking about anything city related brings stress (real or imagined). What I don't understand is outright hostility by some. If they're in the construction industry and are hoping jobs come their way instead of to out of state companies (as is likely), they have a stake in this, but most don't.

Let me reframe this in a manner that the people along Route 219 or anywhere near the airport already understand. Say that you live in a house that is located somewhere in the vicinity of a thruway or an airport or whatever, that may have had some distant disadvantages, but the pluses outweighed them. Everything could even have been peachy-keen with no storm clouds in sight, for that matter. Suddenly a government entity comes sniffing around.

This here "Authority" has decided to build, expand, or do something that will drastically alter the complexion of your neighborhood. The home that has been in the family for generations, or the historical treasure that you have lovingly restored, or the dream new build, or the merely comfortable home that you have come to love, is threatened. What now?

Selling out to the powers that be is probably not even an offered option. Selling it anyone at all is now problematic. The disruption, pollution, and what have you will now destroy your neighborhood and there's not a whole lot you can do about it but protest, and try to force people to listen and to imagine that it can happen to them...because it can.

Government can use eminent domain or the stealth approach, where it buys out properties that are in the way and proceeds through outright demolition or allowing decrepitation until some neighbors buckle under the stress, but the results are the same. The process can take many years, and for just as many years the interested parties keep going at it, while those on the "outside" roll their eyes and call out seemingly oppositional terms like "obstructionists" and "economic development", like they think preservation and progress can't go hand in hand.

In a (very large) nutshell, that's what the conflict about the Peace Bridge houses is about (that, and taxpayer dollars being used for private gain aka the Duty-Free store). This picture, which I just blatantly borrowed from Facebook, is version of the undercover proposed plans. Notice the Hutchinson Chapel being rendered inaccessible:

To quote from the Campaign 4 Greater Buffalo "There are alternatives. The neighborhood can be restored, the Peace Bridge can have more inspection booths and smoother flow, and everything can be linked to an enhanced waterfront and rebuilt Porter Avenue."

Where does it stop?  It CAN happen to you.

Rally for Prospect Hill (name of Peace Bridge area) Part II tonight at the Armory Restaurant (a former silent movie house until 1916), 311 Connecticut Street 6-7:30pm...come, listen, and learn!

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