Tag Archives: Navy Island

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.