Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Edifice Complex

Saturday morning at eleven it's the dedication of the Intermodal Transportation Center, ITC, a building whose construction was awaited nearly as long as that of the Second Coming and whose location has only been slightly less contentious.

We seem to think in snapshots in Norwich rather than in sequences. We have isolated moments rather than shared memories and almost all of them are tied  to what I call the Single Building Theory. For the twenty years my family and I have lived here, there has been a series of brick and mortar projects, many of them in what I call downtown and others call Chelsea, that are assumed and presumed to be endowed with magical powers to attract people in large numbers and return Norwich to a position of prominence and prosperity last enjoyed in the early Sixties.

I hate to harsh the buzz of that glow but less than 30% of all of us who live here now have any idea what Norwich was half a century ago. But what we are now is what we were then and even then there seemed to be a sense of 'just one more building and we'll turn the corner.' So instead of creating a cohesive and coherent vision of what we want our city to be, we have concentrated on one-off construction projects that we believe, with no facts in evidence and even less of a plan, will somehow kick start perhaps the Age of Aquarius.

Meanwhile, Monday night, we watched our current City Council, the one less than 15% of us could be bothered to turn out and vote for, wrestle with another annual operating budget that documents all too eloquently the philosophic and economic bankruptcy of planning the way a horse runs-one foot fall ahead.

No one is happy with the concentration of property taxes on private individuals instead of broadening the taxable base with commercial growth because that growth is not happening. And it doesn't happen because despite changes in the cast for a generation and more Norwich has been the same movie.

The part of the Wauregan Hotel in the Renaissance of Downtown may, in the coming weeks, be played by the Reid and Hughes Building Restoration. Every project in Norwich has a twin from the Otis Library to the Haymarket Building-from Dodd Stadium to the Ice Rink. Wonderful individual efforts without any collective impact.

If the ITC is to be anything other than a parking garage where buses pause on their way to elsewhere, it's what we do after the dedication on Saturday that's vastly more important than anything leading up to it. For those who are still angry 'it's not in downtown,' you're right, it isn't; so what are we going to do? Continue to waste time having the same old argument or can we lean and look forward to not only what's next but what comes after what's next?

Is there a way to leverage the flow of visitors through the ITC to attractions at Thayer's Marine, or the Marina and beyond? We have the Farmer's Market and Rock the Docks starting soon, what else can we pilot this summer to see if it's robust enough to attract visitors to and through the fall?

We should map, measure, monitor and adjust whatever the plan ahead is to look like and remain agile when change is required. And it will be because the only constant in life is change. Otherwise, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. Welcome to Norwich. Still Revolutionary? That's yet to be determined.
-bill kenny                

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