The River Is Not The Enemy

by rich on June 13, 2012

My thoughts on this week’s focus on the 4oth Anniversary of the Agnes Flood:

Much has been made of the 40th anniversary of the “Flood of ’72” that caused so much devastation to the East Coast including, of course, Elmira, Corning and New York’s Southern Tier Region. “Facing The Wall” spends a great deal of time discussing the flood and its impact on the region. But just as the movie is about the river and not the flood, it’s important to remember that the river, not the flood, is what defines our city.

I moved to Elmira in 1987. Iszard’s Department Store was stil downtown, but it wouldn’t be for long. Most of the anchor stores were gone, the area was facing a struggling economy, and my first exposure to the city was driving up Clemens Center Parkway, where I witnessed what I saw as row after row of empty buildings and a post-industrial town that was clearly suffering. Later, I was told that I was taken down the “good route” in town. Little did I know.

The story of Elmira is not unique. It’s the story of downtowns across the Northeast and Midwest. Yes, we had a flood, but it was really just one (admittedly very large) nail in a coffin that was already being built. The river has become a convenient target for all the struggles that the city has endured since.

But the river is not the enemy.

In a very real sense, we are the enemy of the river. We have blocked it off with an ugly wall to “protect” us from its perceived danger. Until recently, no one could easily get to the river to enjoy its benefits, put in a kayak, go fishing, or just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet offered by the slow-moving waters. You can’t hike along a river you can’t access. As Jim Pfeiffer so aptly points out in the documentary, the river became a barrier from getting from one side of town to another. A nuisance, and a dangerous one at that.

Forty years after the horrific devastation of Agnes, the community is finally embracing the river. Last week saw the “Riverfest” Celebration, with dozens of kayakers and canoeists floating down the river and exiting on its banks at a new boat launch in the heart of downtown. People are looking at the river as an asset, not a liability. I say it’s about time.

I grew up in a town very much like Elmira. Port Huron, Michigan is located on the St. Clair River in the thumb region of Michigan. When I was young, the town had a vibrant downtown, with large department stores, movie theaters, great shops and restaurants. Today, it’s a shadow of its former self. They didn’t have a flood….they had a mall. Lacking a convenient excuse for downtown’s woes, they have slowly crawled back, and now the river is the focus of development there.

I hope for the same here. Elmira is my adopted hometown. I have lived here longer than anywhere else. I have raised my family here, and I love this town. I’ve been one of its biggest cheerleaders. I love the people here and I love the river. I can’t wait to see what happens, and I can’t wait to be a part of it. My hope is that people reading this will feel the same, and view the river for what it is…a beautiful, powerful force of nature that defined who we are, and will be a big part of who we will become.

It’s going to be a great journey.

March News

by rich on March 13, 2011

A couple quick notes for March:

• All copies of “Facing The Wall” purchased through this website during the month of March will be priced at $15; this represents a 20% discount off the normal price.

• Our first semi-private screening will take place for AARP members on March 16. See our “screenings” page for more information.

• All copies of “Facing The Wall” currently in the Internet sales channel contain the corrected information regarding the history of Soaring in Elmira.

Thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of the documentary, made a kind comment, or otherwise supported this effort. I’m hoping to announce some exciting news soon, so please stay tuned…and help spread the word about this project!

– Rich LaVere // March 13, 2011



December 14, 2010

A former boss once told me that the best way to find an error in a project was to publish it, and the errors would become immediately obvious. I was reminded of that today, when someone pointed out that “Facing The Wall” contains one factual error that, despite my best efforts, slipped through. It will […]

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Now Available for pre-order on DVD

November 11, 2010

“Facing The Wall” is now available for pre-order on DVD. The estimated availability is early December; we will definitely have copies available in time for Christmas. I want to give special thanks to the Chemung County History Museum; everyone there was very helpful in negotiating terms for the use of their archival material that made […]

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Reflections on the Premiere

November 1, 2010

You couldn’t have asked for a better night. On Tuesday, October 26, “Facing The Wall” had its premiere on the floodwall that lines the Chemung river in the parking lot of B&C Photo. We estimated that between 120 and 150 people came out on a weeknight to stand in a parking lot to watch a […]

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