By Meghann Coughlan. As some of you may know, my hometown is Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Falls in an amazing city. It’s busy and friendly and you learn to live with the tourists. I love my hometown – I mean really love it. I’d be thrilled if I could fall in love with Abbotsford the way I fell for the Falls. So, rather than lamenting for better days I thought I’d offer a few tips from my hometown.
1) Gambling isn’t a bad thing. As most of you are aware, Niagara Falls is home to quite a few casinos. They bring in a LOT of money and create a LOT of jobs. We have bingo and slots, but some real poker and black jack tables wouldn’t hurt. Just don’t offer to donate the land required to build!
2) Public Transportation is crucial. In Niagara Falls, (which has a population of about 85,000), it is possible to take a bus going downtown every 15 minutes. It is also entirely possible to live without a car, seeing as public transportation can get you just about anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.
3) Street festivals create revenue for small businesses and create a sense of community. Niagara has recently begun closing Queen St in the downtown core every spring for their Springalicious festival. With live music at both ends of the street, shop owners sell at tables outside of their stores, restaurants and chip wagons sell food of all sorts and people wander the street, dancing with strangers and having a good time. (And YES, there is a beer garden! In fact, it is a beer, wine and food event!) The world wouldn’t end if we closed off downtown once in a while.
4) Diversity is important. Niagara has all kinds. Every colour, creed, sexual orientation. Everyone seems to get along just fine. No one group is permitted to push their beliefs on the public and for the most part church and state remain separated.
5) Strip clubs won’t destroy your city. Niagara has several. They have not increased crime rates against women. Men who cheat after attending a strip club would have cheated anyhow. If the people want a strip club, allow someone to build one. I personally don’t see it as that big of a deal. If you don’t want your daughters working at a strip club, then do your best to raise them in a manner that ensures it wouldn’t happen. *One club in Niagara has two floors: one for male dancers and the other for females. Also, in my experience, strip clubs always seem to have really good deals on steak lunches.
6) Create free events for the people in your city. Even outside of tourist season, Niagara is hosting free events for the community. Whether it’s fireworks over the falls, car shows, live music, holiday events, whatever… there is always something to do. We wasted most of this Family Day trying to decide where to go. There was nothing to do. Nothing.
7) City buses can double as school buses for some high school kids. When I was in high school I was given a monthly bus pass to use to get me to and from school. Yes, sometimes kids used them to go to the mall instead, but if your kid is going to skip school, they are going to skip school. What was great about the city bus passes was kids could still get themselves to school if they were late and they could get themselves home if they weren’t feeling well or had after school activities. They worked all month so parents didn’t need to act as chauffeurs all weekend, either.
8) If you want to reinvent a portion of town, offer benefits to people taking the risk of starting new businesses. When Niagara wanted to begin reinventing downtown, they offered tax breaks to people willing to start up business in an up-and-coming neighbourhood. Obviously there were still some struggles to be faced, but it did make it easier for boutique stores to survive while people began to feel comfortable shopping downtown again.
9) Support the food bank. Just about every supermarket in Niagara supports the food bank. In fact, it’s the only food bank I’ve seen that gives out clothing, frozen meat, fresh milk and a constant supply of fruit.
10) Any church can start a soup kitchen. Niagara, again with far less people to feed, has several soup kitchens in church basements. Some open for lunch, some for dinner. There is always a place to eat if you’re down on your luck.
11) Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers!!!! This one is HUGE for me. In Niagara Falls, people say hello when they pass on the street. We always knew all of our neighbours because when we walked anywhere we’d stop to chat to people on their porches. I’ve said Merry Christmas to people on the street here and I swear they looked at me like I was crazy and held their bags a little tighter.
12) Neighbourhood pubs and bars are great meeting places. Am I the only one who has ever watched Cheers? That happens in Niagara all the time. Nearly every block has a neighbourhood pub, some with only 3 or 4 booths and 6 bar stools. The size doesn’t really matter, it’s a place for people to go and meet up with neighbours and people in their community. In the summer, they are great places to get some free air conditioning and cold beer. I’ve never seen a newbie sit down in a bar without someone immediately inviting them to their table and making conversation.