Sunday, December 9, 2007

I usually get them for the funnies, but now the funnies are also on the front and editorial pages

In one of the Sunday newspapers this morning is an extended look at how The Rose of New England manages change, or as we call it around here, 'economic development'. I was struck by the absence of comments from at least three persons who pop up on the pages of this same newspaper at regular intervals offering their insights on how and why development in Norwich should be handled. Maybe everyone goes out of town as the holidays approach.

The problem with not knowing where you're going, is not knowing when you've gotten there. I, like everyone on this anthill, don't know what I don't know. And many times what I don't know is what's important and critical.

What I don't know about economic development, 'smart growth' in Norwich: how many agencies, advisories, commissions and panels we have here in The Rose City who see it as their mission to 'help speed the plow.' I know some of the big ones: Norwich Community Development Corporation, the City Council, the office of the Mayor, the Planning Department, APEDC (though I'm not sure of the exact acronym or what it means), Downtown Renaissance Something or Other, Commission on the City Plan and, as I said, these are the ones I know about.

How many more are there? Dozens, perhaps; hundreds, probably not, but then again....I applaud their enthusiasm and their engagement. But now I'd like them all to stop.

A theft from Bob Dylan: "money doesn't talk, it swears.'
Of all those in Norwich with a piece of the smart growth encouragement process, who has money and who can get more money? To my understanding there's only one agency and, good news for all of us, it's already ours: Norwich Public Utilities. It's a municipally-owned utility provider--not a multi-billion dollar corporate behemoth beholden to stock-holders. It's in NPU's best interest to continually grow the size of its user-community-they have the most to gain by increasing the number of customers. And, because they turn over 10% of the gross receipts to the City's General Fund, the rest of us can, and should, support their efforts. Right now, I think NPU funds at least in part (at least) two of the city-wide efforts to stimulate growth, and works with probably all the others currently involved in the process.

Why not allow NPU to lead the way ahead on smart growth with all the rest of us supporting it as best as we can? After all, NPU is the beneficiary of any and all development. Instead of, most recently, a City Council creating a panel of citizens to solicit proposals for the former state mental hospital property (a lengthy process when done, as in this case, with due diligence and attention to detail) that netted two proposals neither of which, say published reports, are embraced by the Mayor (or likely to be pursued), let NPU decide how to market this parcel.
If NPU needs to import expertise from a development consultant, so be it. Together, or in tandem (or in any other configuration), a better match may be found and, hopefully, be made with a development idea that benefits those risking their capital and those in whose city this risk is being invested. (Kind of like the Washington Street proposal before the Council election, except without the coffee shop, the bank and the drug store, and, oh yeah, the inflicting change on people who didn't want it parts.)

NPU, working with the Commission on the City Plan and our Planning Department (each doing what they should be doing in terms of review, compliance and adherence) could then present our City Council, and all of us, a Way Ahead, and not just for the 'Norwich Hospital' property.
We would have One Voice, One Vision, One Norwich.
But that's just one guy's thinking.
-bill kenny

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