Forward Thinking In Lakewood And Beyond

It’s a summer without the Bemus Bay Pops, the ferry and rain. The beach in Lakewood was closed for a time because of algae, and people at a recent village board meeting talked about selling their boats because of the weeds in the lake. Lakefront homeowners complained about the smell.

Chautauqua Avenue in Lakewood could use a little love-there’s certainly no denying that.

You could have left the village board meeting a little depressed on Monday. How do we move forward without burdening the taxpayer? How do we fix the lake, build new storefronts and attract new homeowners to our village without spending money?

That’s a question being asked in every small village and town in America. Especially in New York State, where people-among the most highly-taxed people in America–are leaving small-town life in droves.

Rather than discuss the pros and cons of the two grants Lakewood is considering that will start the process of cleaning up the lake and improving the village’s business district, I’d like to talk about the importance of embracing a more comprehensive vision for our village.

And I want to talk about the “why” and not the “how.”

As much as there is depressing news, there are good things happening all around us. Bemus Point, Westfield and now Dunkirk and Celeron have improved their public spaces through grant money. And the National Comedy Center-a real game changer-is opening its doors next week.

The health of the lake is getting all kinds of attention right now from local and state agencies and in time, I’m hopeful, the right answers will come to the fore.

What we’re being asked as citizens and as the decision makers that will impact future generations is to have a little vision. Because nothing in the world has ever changed without it.

Like it or not, the world has changed tremendously in the past few decades. As someone who has seen it first hand–in cities and towns across the globe-people all over the world now understand that to compete for residents and taxpayers you have to offer what they’re looking for. And what people are looking for has changed.

They want substance. Not shopping malls but quaint main streets. Good places to eat. Coffee houses with internet. Green spaces and parks and bike paths. And real passion in the way a village or a town or a city presents itself–an active community that is working together to create something special and unique. They want to know that a place has stakeholders, that their community is utilizing all open pathways in creating an interesting and substantive place to live.

There is momentum out there-the kind of momentum that creates jobs. There’s a great deal of energy and money being put into recreating our world-whether it’s to become cashless or digitized or tearing down old strip malls to make room for innovative spaces for people to relax and live in. Cities and towns are increasingly places of inspiration and culture, put together through design.

Consider Columbus, Ohio. That city is in the midst of a big transition, where people are moving in from bigger cities like New York to take advantage of low housing costs and good schools. They’re fixing up houses, opening new businesses and recreating crumbling neighborhoods.

Change isn’t easy or cheap, but it’s already happening here. The Comedy Center is proof of that. The center offers a digitized experience that is similar to what all new museums being built across the world are doing. They’re changing the experience and changing us in the process, elevating what matters in today’s economy.

The Reverie Creamery is another great example of an innovative stakeholder. Two forward thinking gentlemen moved into town, remodeled an existing building, and are utilizing local products to create something new and special. Their success is our success. Same with Southern Tier Brewery.

The Ellicottville Brewing Company in Bemus Point has brought a new architectural concept to our neighborhood- a visual example of the new creative experimentation in design.

There’s a new waterfront hotel in Celeron and a dog kennel with personal canine TV’s in Lakewood. How’s that for change?

I’m not a fan of unfettered globalism in all its myriad forms, but what I have observed is that you can’t keep out progress. Not forever. And we should all welcome the right kind of progress–the kind of progress that sees Chautauqua Avenue as a dynamic shopping district, where new residents, sensing optimism and forward movement, move in and repair and remodel the houses that have been left to decay.

There’s so much to build on in our villages and towns across the county: real food, good people, open spaces. And that’s what people are looking for-places of possibility that maintain a sense of tradition, stability and distinctiveness. We’re already ahead of the game.

I don’t profess to know much about the “how” of moving forward, but the “why” is certainly worth thinking about.