If water could talk, would people listen? According to the WNED/WBFO documentary titled “If Our Water Could Talk,” the answer is yes. But it can take some time.
David Rotterman, vice president of television production at WNED, will give Chautauqua a chance to decide for itself at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ, as he will screen the documentary and give the audience a chance to do a little talking of their own. This presentation is part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture series and the annual Buffalo Day at Chautauqua.
The scene is Buffalo, New York. Its waterfront, once highly industrialized, is now being transformed into an attractive destination for many kinds of social and recreational activities. That waterfront industry declined and left in the 1960s and 1970s.
“It took a couple of decades to realize what to do,” Rotterman said. “It took patience and having a plan.”
A program overview on the WNED/WBFO website indicated that, at its beginning, “Buffalo was a small trading post along the water’s edge of the Buffalo Creek.”
Since that time, water played an important role in the growth and development of the city and its people, and it will play a role in shaping the region’s future.
“Buffalo would not be here without the water,” said Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. “Buffalo is a mid-sized American city struggling to regenerate itself.”
In the decades after the industrial decline, there is renewed optimism.
“Everybody’s got a new hope for Buffalo,” said Peg Overdorf, executive director of the Valley Community Association.
And the optimism largely entails water. Rotterman said the Western New York area had an early champion of its natural resources in Frederick Law Olmsted, who, in the 1800s, wanted to save the mighty Niagara River in the face of industrial demands to harness it.
“I think we are making more informed decisions — almost like we learned from 100 years ago,” Rotterman said. “We recognized that, after a point, a polluted resource is not of use to us anymore.”
According to the WNED/WBFO website, the film weaves historical context with contemporary stories and characters connected to the water.
“It tells the story of water as a driving force in Buffalo’s rise through industrialization, its subsequent economic decline, and efforts by community leaders to re-connect communities to the water,” the description reads. “The program evokes the beauty of the region’s water resources and captures the unique character of the Buffalo River.”