August 27, 2008

city upon the lake

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:06 pm by marinagrey

What is it about water that draws us?  Certainly we as humans (and in the greater scheme- living things) need water to survive.  But its more than that-  all my life I have lived near a great body of water, and being near or on or in it refreshes me, enthralls me, excites me.

I was born and grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. My mother is from the harbor city of Baltimore.  We vacationed at Ocean City, MD, Martha’s Vineyard, and Lake Chautauqua in NY state.  I rowed on a crew team. I lived in Cleveland, on Lake Erie, and now I am in Chicago, with Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. So I know what water can do to a town and its people- it is powerful, mesmorizing, and sometimes contains an unimaginable force.

Frederic Edwin Churchs Niagara, courtesy of UIC

Frederic Edwin Church's Niagara, courtesy of UIC

 I went running this morning along Lake Michigan, along a couple of the 29 miles of lakeshore that the City of Chicago has been blessed to have and must be commended for making use of.  The sun was just rising over the waves, and the breeze caused the water to occasionally spray up over the breakwall.  As I ran, a sense of calm came over me.  I looked up ahead and to my left- people were biking, running, walking, all out enjoying the beauty of the lake and the fresh morning sun.

I was struck by the diversity of folks I saw this morning- young, old, pushing baby carriages and tugging on dog leashes.  They were with friends, on cell phones, listening to iPods and meditating silently.  There were some people in designer sneakers and athletic gear and some homeless just enjoying a seat on a bench and the beautiful view.  Granted at 7:30 am I was seeing a lot of retired people, stay-at-home-moms, and students– not too many business people or second-shifters were able to make it.  But I was so enveloped by a feeling of community.  I felt I was truly a part of this city where I have lived only briefly.  For one hour, no one knew that I am a recent transplant.  I owned Chicago as much as any native.

Perhaps this is what I most cherish about water- it brings us together and strips away our differences.  It is a great equalizer.  It washes us clean of any prestige and brings us to the realization that we are all together, in awe of this lake and this city.

Its not just Chicago, but I must give credit to the city for its bold plan.  Waterfront property (and having lived on the Niagara River for most of my life, I can attest to this) is fantastic to own.  However, it is even better to share amongst the population.  And Chicago has done just that.  The city has opened the beaches and Lakefront Trail and parks to everyone.  It has created greenspace along the city rivers, so that buildings are not built along the water- instead there are paths and parks and everyone is welcome to take ownership of the water, to keep it clean, to cherish it because it is ours.

It got me to thinking about Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY.  We, too, are on bodies of water- Buffalo on Lake Erie and Niagara Falls directly at the point where the strait between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, tumbles over a cliff and roils down into the Niagara Gorge.

Sure, people own some of the waterfront in these cities, and there are some views and paths, but much of the waterfront is cluttered by extinct industrial vestiges.  There are abandoned warehouses, crumbling grain elevators, and menacing electrical plants where there could be paths, beaches, and people.  Industry has left us robbed of jobs, income, and the enjoyment of a natural resource that, by all rights, belongs to the people.

I hope that Buffalo-Niagara cleans up its waterfront, does away with the industrial water treatment plants and litter, and opens the waterfront to its citizens.  By creating a bond between people and water, the government could create an emotional bond to the region, attract more tourism, and draw business.

We could focus on our contributions to the environment as well- Buffalo businesspeople and politicians are touting Buffalo as a potential green energy market- let’s make our city green, embrace nature and the Lake that gives us beautiful, clear summer days and incredibly snowy winters.

The water is ours to appreciate and use.  It is perhaps our greatest strength. The Erie Canal created the wealthy Buffalo that few remember, and the lake is our key to plugging into that memory and making it a modern reality.