Posted by Deirdre Oakley, BUFFALO, NY -- The devastation of deindustrialization is evident all over the Rust Belt, but the miles of massive empty and decaying grain elevators along South Buffalo's waterfront make for a breath-taking canyon-like panoramic, one that's both sad and magical. Kayaking through the meandering Buffalo River with the elevators looming on either side is a favorite trip for many local kayakers. "It's almost as if you can hear echoes of all the workers from days gone by," said one. "You really get a sense of just how enormous they are looking up from the water," said another.
There are parts of this waterfront that have been earmarked for historic preservation, including the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. Yet the sheer number of empty structures makes it almost impossible to engage in comprehensive redevelopment. So the grain elevators sit for kayakers and passersby to marvel over, as well as serving as canvasses for graffiti artists, and occasionally, for teenagers to climb around in, some tragically falling to their death.
Ironically, however, there are some interesting new activities emerging out of this grain elevator canyon -- ones that create a striking and hopeful juxtaposition between industrial decay and Green innovation -- like wind farms and wind surfing. With 50 mile per hour winds occurring regularly, this waterfront is a boon for both. The giant wind mills were installed by Wind Steel in 2007 and can provide enough electricity for 75 percent of the nearby City of Lackawanna. And for the wind surfers? Well, wet suits are a must, and I wouldn't go out there without a life jacket because the currents are strong and mercurial. But for those who want to catch some really good wind gusts, or environmentally-sound electricity, Grain Elevator Canyon is the place to go.
Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.