5 Disastrous Urban Renewal Failures

October 19, 2017

While urban renewal was primarily a mid-20th century phenomenon that decimated the cores of America's cities, here's a few disastrous failures that have occurred over the last 30 years.

1. Downtown Niagara Falls, New York

2013 Google Streetview of Old Falls Street (former intersection of Falls and 2nd Streets).

Incorporated on March 17, 1892, the City of Niagara Falls developed as an industrial community, primarily due to the power offered by the nearby Niagara River. During its heyday, Downtown's Falls Street served as the major pedestrian thoroughfare through town and as the center of the city's tourism trade. After maxing out with 102,394 residents in 1960, the city began to decline.

Intersection of Falls Street and 2nd Street in 1908. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Seeking to turn things around, an ill-conceived federally aided urban renewal project resulted in Falls Street and most of downtown being torn down and replaced with an enclosed outlet mall, convention center, water park and surface parking lots. By the 1990s, most the things implemented as a part of the redevelopment plan had failed, as the city's population base continued to hemorrhage.

While old authentic downtown Niagara Falls is now gone, the city has learned from its mistakes and appears to be working hard to turn things around. For example, the failed Rainbow Center mall was converted into a culinary institute for Niagara County Community College and the failed convention center was redeveloped as the Seneca Niagara Casino and hotel. As for Falls Street, the corridor now known as "Old Falls Street", was recently revamped and is now known as a social gathering spot for the community.

Google Earth aerial of downtown Niagara Falls, NY in 1934.

1995 Google Earth aerial of downtown Niagara Falls, NY.

2015 Google Earth aerial of downtown Niagara Falls, NY.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP

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