Every aspect of Niagara Falls suggests the human attempt to appropriate nature. This reflected in both the physical constructs surrounding the falls and the intangible laws that govern its usage. For example, the tunnels beneath the falls "tame" nature, exposing you to its fury without risk of personal injury. The Skylon Tower's restaurant puts the falls on display; a form of art to entertain you as you dine. Laws restrict access to the falls, subjecting nature to the "governance" of the federal government. The law defines very specific ways that are permissible forms of engoying the falls, just as traffic is guided by very strict regulations. Nature has been appropriated into a form acceptable for human enjoyment and consumption, while it is simultaneously commoditized so that a profit can be made of it, primarily by the tourist industry it has fostered.
This process has two parts: appropriation and commoditization. Appropriation takes place first in the form of legislation pertaining to the falls and their immeditate area. The commoditization is a capitalist driven mechanism that sees an opportunity for profit in natural resources. The most direct evidence is not to study the case of the power plant, which has other motives that could be considered ecological, but the tourism the falls have spawned. These businesses are in existence for the sole purpose of making a profit, a profit contingent on the successful appropriation of Niagara Falls.
In order to establish the trends and the processes that lead to the current situation, three aspects of history will be examined. First, the history of the falls and human interaction with them will be traced back, through archival research, to shortly before the colonization of America . This will establish the foundation, telling us what happened. The other two historical aspects will document the mechanisms that drove history. The appropriation of Niagara Falls will be traced through the study of related environmental legislation. This type of legislation's inception will be scutinized to ascertain what traits of human behavior and other factors motivated its creation.
The commoditization of Niagara Falls will be analyzed within the framework of the tourist industry. The industry is a sign of capitalist incentives which force individuals to acknowledge and take advantage of the profit-making potential of the falls. Increases in the size of the tourist industry will be demonstrated to correspond to a greater degree of commoditization for the falls. It can be shown that the falls are primarily an object to be used as a draw for the industry, even if unrelated to the falls.
All three parts of history will be examined in a collective framework after individual analyses to create a new perspective. This perspective will chart history as the dynamic interaction between the three componenets that lead to the current state of human interaction with the natural world at Niagara Falls.
My visits to Niagara Falls support my theory regarding the appropriation and commoditization of nature. We are not allowed anywhere near the falls and, quite frankly, they are not the hottest thing in the area anymore. Perhaps assisted by the disparity between the grandiose image it has been given and the actuality of the falls, the regional development has overshadowed the falls themselves.
People's reactions reflect this phenomenon. No one could be overheard, in English, talking about the falls. Everyone was discussing other aspects of their lives. This lack of dialogue can be taken as an indicator of diminished awe and importance in the eyes of the tourist. Niagara Falls is no longer so compelling as to monopolize people's thoughts and conversations; it simply provides a more scenic area for them to take place in.
Brochures located in the information areas of the falls can quantify this new role that the falls play in the area. Of thirty-five pamphlets on the US side, only two related to the falls directly. Of fifty-five Canadian brochures: five were general trip planners for the area; eighteen had nothing to do with the Niagara Falls area; twenty-two were for attractions in Niagara Falls, but were entirely unrelated to the falls; three (for two sites) were only related to the falls in terms of providing a view of them; one was for another nature based attraction in Niagara (a butterfly reserve); two contained general information and facts about the area; one was for a museum with area history, but also Egyptian mummies, etc. Only three of the fifty-five were actually related to the falls themselves as an attraction. This confirms the transformation of the falls from an attraction to an "attractor". One planner acknowledged this new role in its slogan, "Niagara: Attracting the World".
Personally, the falls had been too built up for them to actually meet my expectations. The existence of "parks" had given me the hope that the falls would be given a small natural background, a buffer between it and man. These parks turned out not to be natural forests, but just as manmade as the cities they "separated" the falls from. The sheer aesthetic loss, combined with the appropriation the falls have been subjected to in the form of piggy-backing attractions have in many senses, destroyed them.
Man has taken a natural wonder and encroached upon it just to the point before civilization jeopardizes the falls existence. It has served as a direct source of profit for the hydroelectric plant. The line is clearly approached as they remove fifty percent of the water flow; enough is removed for man to gain, but not so much as to put the other ways he can gain from the falls in danger. One of the other ways is seen in the Clifton Hill area.
Here, non related activities are everywhere to take advantage of the void left as tourists realize they were sold an inflated image of a diminished Niagara Falls. The proliferation of such activities ironically increases that void. The greater the number of activities, the more appropriated and commoditized the falls become. The more appropriated and commoditized the falls become, the greater the need for other activities which fill the void becomes. The tourist industry perpetualizes itself by creating a need for something else to do in the wake of the realization that Niagara just isn't good enough anymore.