What Could Have Been

19 Sep

Click to enlarge

So many words have been written about where WNY went wrong, mistakes we’ve made, how we’ve been a field town and not a HQ for much of the last century, and how we’ve ceded businesses, people, industry, and ideas to other parts of the country.

We’re trying to reverse that decline now through the growth and promotion of a knowledge-based economy.  Big, subsidized projects like the medical corridor and UB expansion on the one hand, and small business incubators and venture capital networks on the other, are slowly making a very real impact, helping to lurch this region out of a longstanding economic, social, and (hopefully, eventually) political morass.

But rewind some 60 years, and there was a plan in place that, had it been implemented, would have guaranteed that Southern Ontario and Western New York would have been an economic powerhouse.

Navy Island is an uninhabited green blip on the map, sitting in the Niagara River between Grand Island and the Ontario shore.  After World War II, as the United Nations was being formulated and ideas for its headquarters were being considered, Navy Island was a top contender.  Because of its location between – and easy access from – two friendly nations, Navy Island would have been a better symbolic choice for the UN than the East Side of Manhattan, and a less expensive, less congested one, as well.  Turning a small island over to a peacekeeping organization with deep pockets, turning it into an international zone employing and attracting tens of thousands of diplomatic, secretarial, and administrative staff to southern Ontario and western New York would have had a billion-dollar impact today.

The ancillary economic impact from all those well-remunerated people engaging in the local economy is unfathomable today, and would have attracted businesses, schools, investors, people, and money.

Instead, the UN is on the East River, on land bought with a donation from the Rockefellers.  Had the UN been located in WNY, I wonder how much different this region would be, how it would look, how it would have evolved.

Image courtesy of Niagara Falls, ON Library.

11 Responses to “What Could Have Been”

  1. RaChaCha September 19, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Although it would almost be an exercise in science fiction, it’s not impossible to conceive a scenario under which the UN could move somewhere with rational housing and living expenses for their diplomats, employees, and visitors — and reducing the overwhelming security costs in NYC that are substantially borne by NYC. Their East River HQ would be the real estate sale of the century, financing quite a bit of moving and facility building somewhere else. Cornell (along with other universities) offers a graduate degree in real estate development — exploring these what-ifs might make an interesting student thesis project.

    That Navy Island is outside the US would make a UN move there from NYC seismic for that fact alone.

    And think of the fun the Grand Island folks could have fighting over those bridges & toll plazas…

  2. Ethan September 19, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Did you know that Grand Island was also considered as a Jewish homeland… imagine that! 


    Ok, so not _seriously_ considered, but considered nonetheless.

  3. Chris Sasiadek September 19, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Let’s not forget another “could have been,” Grand Island as the Holy Land: http://www.buffalohistorygazette.com/2011/05/ararat-grand-island-noah.html

  4. Adam K. September 19, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Have you read Power Failure by Diana Dillaway? Its a compilation of all of the failures of Buffalo due to politics and patronage through about 1999. Great read. http://www.amazon.com/Power-Failure-Politics-Patronage-Economic/dp/1591024005/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316436701&sr=1-3

  5. Jesse September 19, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Okay, that’s awesome.  Imagine all the Birchers hating on WNY!

    I love the top image, where you get to see “Grand Island, NY” and uh…. the entire province of Ontario.  I have no idea what locality that area belongs to either.

    So it was a ‘top contender’, I wonder why it wasn’t selected.

  6. Brian Castner September 19, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    That is almost too bizarre to seriously contemplate.

  7. Max September 19, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks for digging out this gem, Alan. 2 outcomes come to mind: 1.) Niagara Falls wouldn’t haven’t succombed to the tawdry, dumping ground status which marked its postwar years with the resulting subsequent squalor and subserviant role to another ‘soverign;’ and, 2.) New York City would have enjoyed greater parking fine revenues, as there wouldn’t have been so many tickets waived due to ambassadorial immunity. Sounds like a win-win to me.

  8. Tim Moran September 19, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Imagine all the drunk self important diplomats that would take a boat out only to find themseves heading for the brink of the falls!

  9. Peter A Reese September 19, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    The “knowledge-based economy” and “Big, subsidized projects like the medical corridor and UB expansion” are never going to produce any jobs for the people of WNY who actually need them. A better move would have been annexation by Ontario where, high taxes, socialism and all, the manufacturing sector still exists.

  10. Dan September 19, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Also unrealized:

    * Villa Park development in North Buffalo (late 1800s)
    * The complete Olmsted parks and parkway system (late 1800s)
    * Grand Union Station (late 1800s)
    * New York Central electrification of the Buffalo-NYC rail corridor (early 1920s)
    * Buffalo City Hall tower extension (late 1920s, provisions in design of original structure)
    * World’s largest golf resort in Fort Erie (late 1920s)
    * Audubon Village (late 1920s)
    * All-American Canal (1950s-1970s)
    * Disneyland East in Niagara Falls (mid-1960s)
    * Marine Midland Tower 2 (late 1960s/early 1970s)
    * Niagara Jetport in Pendleton: replacement for Buffalo International Airport (1960s-1970s)
    * The domed stadium in Lancaster (early 1970s)
    * ABC – Amherst-Buffalo Corridor, a dense Toronto-style development of high rise apartments in Northeast Buffalo (early 1970s)
    * Main Street Mall and the full heavy rail transit system with lines to Tonawanda, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Orchard Park (early 1970s)
    * The completed Ransom Oaks development in Amherst (was originally going to be several times larger than what was built, mid 1970s)
    * The completed Audubon New Town development (extending north of I-990 to Tonawanda Creek Road) (mid 1970s)
    * High rise office tower on Main Street at the southeast corner of Main and Eagle (late 1980s)
    * Peace Bridge signature span (late 1990s-late 2000s)
    * Adelphia Tower (late 1990s/early 2000s)
    * Land of Oz in Wheatfield (early 2000s)
    * The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents of the Martyrs of the Holy Precious Blood of the Baby Jesus of the [ad nauseaum] (early 2000s)
    * Buffalo City Tower (2006)

  11. RaChaCha September 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    @Dan You got enough there to write a book! But another that should be added to the list is the Buffalo Greenways plan. While still living in Rochester I visited Buffalo in 1997 for a conference where that plan was unveiled and “blessed” by community leaders at the city, county, and state level. A key aim of the plan was using the extensive mileage of abandoned railroad corridors in and around the city to create an extensive, interconnected greenway trail system. Needless to say, it didn’t happen, and now that I live in Buffalo I’ve been asking people why it didn’t — still haven’t gotten a clear answer.

    Although it can be frustrating for a community to “miss out” on multi-million-dollar projects — what many like to call silver bullets — my own hometown of RaChaCha has found the hard way that the cost of pursuing those projects can sometimes be greater than the cost of “missing” them. Examples that spring to mind are the Fast Ferry, a perennially failing soccer stadium, a Frankenstein monster bus station/broadway theater/college, and the Midtown Plaza redevelopment — with the public shelling out $100M+ (a new $4M added by a judge this morning) for demolition before finding out that “solid” redevelopment plans were all verbal and probably not happenin’.

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