“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19a)
Canal-side in Buffalo has become a gathering place for tens of thousands of people who come to relax and play and within a few years live in a re-created neighborhood that pays homage to the past. It goes without saying that the opening of the Erie Canal made Buffalo, and its fortunes and misfortunes played a corresponding role in the city’s history. As part of the ongoing renaissance of Buffalo, Canal-side is taking a page out of the history books to reinvent itself going forward.
In the past few years, the original canals have been located and unearthed and rewatered. The original street grid has been put back in place as well as the “Commercial Slip,” It’s recently been announced that soon apartments and stores will grace the the street grids and re-watered canals creating a new community that pays homage to the old. And from the look of artist renderings, it appears it will do just that.
But just exactly how much of the past do we want in our future? A recent article in the Buffalo News tells of a less than romantic account of what the past at Canal-side was really like:
From the Buffalo Evening News in 1903:
The extent to which vice flourishes at the Canal street region, or the “infected district,” as it is called, is pointedly shown in a large wall chart just issued by the Christian Homestead Association, which is doing mission work in that district. Staff Captain Cox of the Salvation Army, who has been in the slums in all the large cities in the world, says the district is the worst he ever saw, with the single exception of a street in Bombay. The chart shows the location of 108 saloons, 19 free theater saloons, 75 houses of ill-fame and 75 second-hand clothing stores, barber shops, restaurants and other legitimate places. It is issued for the purpose of bringing forcibly to the attention of the people of Buffalo the iniquity of that district, and to get them interested in the work of the Rescue Mission, which is maintained entirely by subscriptions. (August 21, 2018 Buffalo News)
Now I know it goes without saying that its not the intention of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to set about re-creating the “infected district,” but there is no denying the fact that this was life at Canal-side that point in time. And to just forget about the fact that it was an infected district is to deny the work of those who worked so hard to overcome it.
So just what are we supposed to do with a past that cannot be forgotten? I again refer to Laurence Stookey’s book, “Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,” where he states; “Christians are called to assume the cruciform posture: Standing upright with feet firmly planted in the present, we stretch out one arm to grasp our heritage and the other arm to lay hold of our hope; standing thus, we assume the shape of our central symbol of faith: the cross. If either hand releases its grip, spiritual disaster threatens as the sign of the cross becomes misformed.” (p.22) It is in this position that we can be grateful for what was good, repent of what wasn’t and trust in a God who is sovereign over all of it.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words;