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Urbanism experts will discuss Niagara Falls' future

Twelve years ago, Partners for a Livable Western New York organized a series of talks on ideas for the future of Niagara Falls.

Now, they've done it again.

Starting Thursday, the group will host a six-week series of panel discussions on issues and ideas that could help Niagara Falls move forward.

The issues will be much the same as in 2007: improving the quality of life, enhancing economic development, combating the plague of abandoned properties and making downtown Niagara Falls more inviting.

"Downtown's not really walkable. It's not a pleasant place to be," said George R. Grasser, executive director of Partners, on Friday.

"Niagara Falls is the fifth-most-visited site in the world," Grasser said, citing data from worldatlas.com, which says 22.5 million people come to see the cataracts every year, counting visitors who look at them only from the Canadian side.

"The community just isn't taking advantage of the tourists," Grasser said.

Grasser said he will make a presentation Thursday on the revival of Fort Myers, Fla., and how it provides lessons for the Falls.

"It was down in the dumps. Nobody wanted to go there," Grasser said. "I'm going to talk about how they turned it around."

The series is called "Imagining a More Livable Niagara Falls – Exploring Solutions for the Future of the City."

Grasser said he was asked to organize it by local leaders such as Georgia Robinson Bradberry and Marge Gillies, president and secretary of the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society, and Thomas Lowe, director of ReNU Niagara, Niagara University's outreach agency.

Series participants range from Mayor Paul A. Dyster and Rep. Brian Higgins to academics and developers, such as Rocco Termini and Christian Campos of TM Montante Group.

"I think we have all the right people involved," Grasser said.

Others among the more than 30 confirmed participants include Michael Lydon of Street Plans Collaborative, co-author of “Tactical Urbanism”; Rob Steuteville, editor of the “Public Square” journal and author of “25 Ideas of the New Urbanism”; and Lynn Richards, president and chief operating officer of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national nonprofit organization.

Partners for a Livable Western New York is the New York State affiliate of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

The sessions will be held at 6 p.m. Thursdays in the Niagara Falls Train Station, 825 Depot Ave. W.

Thursday's topic is "Setting the Goals," with a panel including Dyster, Grasser and representatives from the Western New York Economic Development Council, Empire State Development, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Destination Niagara USA and the Oishei Foundation.

Other topics include: May 9, "Better Mobility for Everyone"; May 16, "Housing for Everyone"; May 23, "Making Better Places"; May 30, "Government and Developers Working Together"; and June 6, "A Community Conversation About the Future," moderated by Lowe of ReNU Niagara.

All sessions are free.

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