Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roadmap or Scrapbook?

The other day I encountered a friend on the landing between two floors in our office building, struggling with a fifty-five gallon drum on a hand truck. It was obvious he needed help, and I was certainly able to lend some. Together we spent what seemed like twenty minutes or more wrangling with the drum and the hand truck right there on the stairwell. It never budged.

I thought about asking him why he hadn't used the elevator, or why he didn't have a bigger hand truck or even a smaller drum, but wanting to help, I decided it wasn't my place to ask questions or to offer suggestions. After getting absolutely nowhere for all this time, my friend finally signalled we should stop and was mopping his brow when I offered, "I don't think we'll ever get this thing up to the second floor." He stared at me in disbelief--"I was trying to get it down to the first floor," he said.

Yeah. Sound like anyplace you know? If, as The Beatles offered, We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, might I suggest more than a few of us dock it in Norwich Harbor. We've had as many ideas for 'bringing Norwich back' as we have people in the city. If wanting to revitalize The Rose of New England were all it took, we'd be home and dry by now. A cynic might suggest if all it could take was a guy offering commentary on-line or in a newspaper, we could sell our clothes because we'd already be in heaven. Point taken, but not personally.

Desire, eagerness, willingness to help, relentless optimism and boundless enthusiasm are all important qualities we'll continue to need in abundance if we, and this is true across the country, are going to again make where we live a great place to come home to. But instead of hoping things will work out for us, we need a plan, and a week ago last Monday, the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC offered a, not the, way ahead.

The use of the indefinite article is/was deliberate and consistent at all the mid-week and Saturday sessions that involved a variety of different people working together, because they had to, in order to produce a plan of both economic and community development with defined objectives, refined milestones and means to measure and correct both the process and the progress as merrily we roll along.

In the years I've lived here, NCDC has been blamed for all manner of ills, real and imagined. If we had a rain of frogs, we'd have marched on their offices to complain the legs didn't taste like chicken. Well, those of us without barbecue sauce would have marched. It's always been hard for those who live here to agree on a definition of what NCDC is/was and what they are/were chartered to do (and they weren't especially good at explaining it).

Of course, we could have just asked, but we don't do a lot of that around here. Instead, we talked among ourselves at public meetings, and in letters to the newspaper editor and phoned in during the radio call-in shows, but it really wasn't until this City Council, this Mayor, this City Manager and the agencies tasked with downtown revitalization all sat together, that the BGO, Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious, we are all in this together, revealed itself.

The proposal is not perfect-not my words-the opinion of the Executive Director of NCDC himself. So if all you've done so far is read the newspaper stories about the presentation, get thee to the Otis Library, which has copies you can review, stop by the NCDC offices and borrow one, or go on line and read it for yourself. And then share your reactions and ideas. A plan isn't worth the PowerPoint trees used to make it, if it's not implemented-and it won't be implemented if each of us, and all of us, don't feel a sense of ownership and take responsibility for making it work.

We can struggle on the landing for the next twenty years trying to move that drum and hand truck or we can plan our work and then work our plan. It's always been our choice. We're running out of reasons for not choosing.
-bill kenny

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