Lake Erie, USA - David Hahn-Baker
My Watermark is Lake Erie, New York.
I grew up in Chicago, Illinois and I have many connections to Lake Michigan back in Chicago, but I live, and have lived, in Buffalo, New York for the past 30 years, so Lake Erie is also somewhere I have a lot of connection with.
One story I have is about the differences that I see between how we reacted towards Lake Michigan when I was back in Chicago, and how the community of Buffalo reacts to the water here. In Chicago the lake was really apart of our lives and it was because so much of the lake was actually open to the public, mostly in the form of beaches. In fact the high school I went to used to have a fundraising walk where you got pledges for how many miles you could walk along the lakefront. You could actually get pledges for up to 26 miles of walking: you’d spend about a mile in a sharp urban area in what’s called the Magnificent Mile in Chicago where there’s lots of hotels and other things on the lake, but for the most part you could walk right along the lakeshore because of the beaches that were there.
When I moved to Buffalo I knew I would love the place, ‘A’ because my wife was here so I loved that, but also because it’s (on) a Great Lake. But I was surprised to find that actually, Buffalo had been built in a way that it really blocked the lakefront from the people. I think that’s one of the sadder things about our community.
We have a lot of aspirational naming, is what I call it. I had a meeting once at the Waterfront School, so I left home and drove down to the waterfront, and then I realized as I drove there that I couldn’t remember a school being on the waterfront. I stopped my car and got out, and we keep a phone book in the back of the car, and found the address for the Waterfront School. I was a little bit late due to the delay and they had locked the doors, so I had to walk all the way around the Waterfront School looking for an opening. I realized that unless there had been a rain storm, you couldn’t see a drop of any water from the Waterfront School. It would actually be better named the ‘Highwayfront School’ because you could see highways all over the place.
I think in Buffalo you really feel the yearning that people have for access to the waterfront. What actually happened in the last century is that they sold the waterfront off to Bethlehem Steel and other places to build steel mills and that access was gone. But now what I think we’re finding is that people are really forcing their way to the waterfront.
There’s an area called Canalside, and Canalside has actually become one of the major attractions in Buffalo. It’s where they hold concerts, it’s where people sit around on the boardwalk that’s been built above the water, and you see everything from aerialists to clowns, to booths, and things that are set up there. You can really feel the yearning for water, and a yearning for places on water here in Buffalo that only now is really coming forward.
I think it’s going to be good because that’s a better economic thing for the city. The problem with selling off your waterfront is that plants eventually close and that unfortunately is what happened in Buffalo and other economic setbacks. But now that they’re putting the waterfront to better use, you see people coming down to the waterfront and opening everything from hot dog stands, scenic viewpoints, and other things.
I’m very hopeful about a thing called the NIagara Greenway Group that’s going to put a greenway from the foot of the Niagara River all the way up towards Niagara Falls where they’ll be better public access. I think that once we get that done we’ll give much greater value to the waterfront and actually work to preserve it. My connection and my Watermark is Lake Erie and it’s coming rebirth that’s apart of our region.