MDB Insight Blog

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Reimagine the Canals as a Great Community Revitalization Project

Several communities in New York State along the old Erie Canal system have been working on community revitalization along the more than 350 miles of the former industrial shipping channel. 

The canal system is just over 200 years old. It runs from Albany to Buffalo and is an important part of New York’s history. The canals are a big part of what helped New York become as prosperous as it is today. Unfortunately, with the industrial decline the canal system fell out of use. It is an expensive piece of infrastructure to maintain, so it's important for the state to find ways to make the canal system an economic development asset. 

“Reimagine the Canals” for Community Revitalization 

In recent years many communities along the canal have experienced some revitalization as the canals have gained use for recreational purposes. Many communities also have cultural events and festivals that are focused on the canal. There is also the Erie Canalway Trail, part of the Empire State Trail, that runs all the way across the state along the canals. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a task force to analyze the canal system and find new economic opportunities and ways to revitalize it. The task force focused their research, community engagement, and collaboration with industry on 5 key guidelines. 

  1. Find new uses for the canal that improve New Yorkers’ quality of life.
  2. Discover ways the canal can support economic development along the canal corridor.
  3. Find ways to enhance recreation and tourism along the canal.
  4. Assess how the canal can be utilized to mitigate damage from flooding and ice jams. 
  5. Find opportunities for the canal to expand irrigation systems for farms in western New York. 

Reimagine the Canals, the task force’s report, is packed full of possibilities. In particular, there are so many different ways that New York could turn the canal system into an important part of its tourism economy.  

Many companies in the tourism sector already take advantage of the canal system, but more opportunities are available to really build the tourism aspect and help revitalize cities, towns, and villages along the canal system. 

The report from the task force recommends that water recreation opportunities be improved, iconic infrastructure be highlighted, access to overnight accommodation be improved, former industrial properties be repurposed into hospitality business spaces, and communities along the Empire State Trail connect with each other towards common goals of culture and education. 

Community Revitalization Has Positive and Far-reaching Economic Ripples

Revitalizing the canal system in New York State will have a positive impact on many communities along the canal and will spur many new opportunities for residents of the region. The canal system is a unique attraction that isn’t particularly common in North America, and it's an excellent cultural development asset to take advantage of. Revitalizing the canal can lead to not just individual community growth but also to the building of strong region-wide connections between communities along the waterway, who share a unique history.

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A tool like Triage BR+E™ can help identify opportunities for new industries in your community and help you figure out how to support budding businesses in these new industries. 

Tourism is changing in a post-COVID-19 world. So it's going to be important for communities to develop tourism plans for the future that address the concerns of visitors, from safety to sustainability. 

Build a Community Revitalization Plan with Tourism

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