Elevating Erie: Why Now?

by Samuel Gordon

We are pleased with the level of interest that we received through the Elevating Erie International Ideas Competition: nearly 70 design ideas were submitted from teams across the globe, representing 16 different countries. Now we have opened our Exhibition at the Erie Canal Museum through the beginning of August. But the question you might be asking is why Elevating Erie? Why now? As you may or may not be aware, the Bicentennial of the start of construction for the Original Erie Canal is this coming year (2017). At the time that the original canal was conceived, many people thought that it was a joke; it was dubbed "Clinton's Folly" in fact. But Clinton's Folly went on to become one of the most iconic infrastructure projects in the history of human settlement. It helped to carve cities out of swamps, and to elevate New York City to a position of the preeminent economic hub of the Eastern Hemisphere.

In celebration then of the importance of the original canal, which in the end gave life to places like Syracuse and DeWitt; its time for the next big idea. Ideas can and do have the power to transform places. As New York State moves toward the completion of the Erie Canalway Trail system (approximately 360 miles between Albany and Buffalo), the communities of Central New York stand to benefit. 

Parks and Trails NY published a report, "The Economic Impact of the Erie Canalway Trail" indicating that Erie Canalway Trail visitor spending generates approximately $253 million in sales, 3,440 jobs, $78 million in labor income, and $28.5 million in taxes in the Upstate economy each year.  While the vast majority of visits are from residents of the 35 counties surrounding the Trail, a conservative estimate of new money from annual trail visits from outside of the Canalway Trail region suggests $55.8 million in new sales, and $16.7 million is labor income. That amount is poised to grow as the Canalway Trail gains in notoriety through events like the annual Cycle the Erie Canal Ride. Projects like Elevating Erie will lead to the closing of the last gaps in the Canalway Trail system; establishing the longest bicycle and pedestrian pathway in North America. So, what's your big idea? Let's get started!