A city, large or small, is much more than the sum of its brick and mortar structures, its thoroughfares and infrastructure, its public safety systems or its schools. All of those are, of course, important, but what helps define who we are is the degree of sacrifice and work we are willing to invest in developing and maintaining all of those material things for the betterment of all the residents who share a zip code.
In Norwich we seem to keep having the same arguments over and over again and it's not as simple as 'us vs. them,' though it's often reduced to that. Point in fact we more often to be 'our past keeps me from seeing the present' allied with 'my fear of the future keeps me nailed to the Now.'
We all know people whose perception of who we are as a city is heavily colored by what we once were. Not all that long ago I had someone give me directions in my neighborhood by telling me to 'go past where the school used to be at the intersection of Sachem and Oneco.' Okay not exactly GPS, but still accurate, but only if you go back more than few decades. In other words, yesterday covers a multitude of sins.
So, too, does a fear of what tomorrow may bring that becomes so great we not only choose to avoid risk-taking we choose to avoid even talking about risk-taking. We've decided it's better to have a horrible ending than horrors without end, except we have no proof tomorrow will not be a better day than the one we are having. It's another case of 'the pool ain't in but the patio's dry' and all that means is we'll save a fortune this summer on swimwear.
My family and I have lived here for twenty-one years, not that this length of time has brought with it any revelations of blinding glimpses of the obvious other than people prefer problems that are familiar to solutions which are not. I arrived here as a relatively young man but have no illusions I am one now, so I have to guard against situations where I become part of the obstacles that keep Norwich from being a place our children and theirs will want to come home to.
I listen with a combination of fascination and dread when people speak of "historic" downtown buildings, some for sale and some foreclosed or seized by the city, as if there were actual history connected to structures whose best days were before I was born. Imagine how alien that must sound to nearly a third of our city, those residents under thirty-five.
What the 'preservationists' espouse isn't a reverence for the past but more a preservation of their past. That doesn't mean those buildings have a place in my or anyone else's present or future, much less that we should mortgage the latter to artificially enhance the former.
When a past isn't a shared past I'd suggest it indicates a time whose past has passed and point out that in Norwich the time is long passed to throw good money, private or public, after bad on little boxes on the hillside or on dreams our children will never see.