Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Present Tense Because the Past Was Perfect

I was on Main Street in the heat of our sunny Sunday admiring the rapidly accelerating ruins of the Reid & Hughes Department Store, what I am told was at some point a large part of Norwich's glorious and historic past.

My family and I arrived here in the fall of 1991 and I cannot recall it looked markedly different than it did on Sunday (okay, maybe a bit more ragged for the wear and almost quarter century of hesitancy, indecisiveness, vacillation and just plain cluelessness that has abounded in connection with the property).

I was hoping to use the buildings flanking Reid & Hughes to throw enough shadow across the street to reach my vantage point so I might better be able to admire rather than simply perspire or expire from the heat.

Not a lot of luck with that endeavor, though as I shifted my location to take as much advantage of the shadow as I could I realized it was easy to forecast where the shadow would fall and step to that spot and wait.

Doing that a couple of times, as I stood on Main Street, provoked a small epiphany as I regarded Norwich's most severe and ongoing municipal affliction, Present Shock.

I'm hoping Alvin Toffler is otherwise occupied for the remainder of this space because my point as someone who is considered NFH (Not From Here) is that we seem to have two places in Norwich: a glorious past where our downtown was prosperous and packed with people most especially on Thursday evenings with sidewalks so crowded children walked in the street, and a less promising future where every great idea seems to run out of energy, enthusiasm and money just as it's about to catch on.

We do great beginnings around here but have lousy middles and often very sad endings. That leaves us in the here and now as the summer of 2015 winds down a bit tense in a present that few of us are happy about but fewer still are willing to risk jeopardizing just in case that big, bright tomorrow is a little late getting here and we have to try to explain to one another how we managed to fail by refusing to try.

Because, that more than any crowded Thursday sidewalks or nostalgia for back in the day that probably never was is what keeps us rooted to a place, the present, we are terribly afraid of. It might be better tomorrow, say some; but others worry it might be worse.

So we've come up with a form of math to help us avoid moving at all: if we never try anything, we cannot fail at anything. Of course, we also don't actually gain anything, but when you use this math, the important part is to not lose anything.

So in the case of the Reid & Hughes Building (and many other projects across the city) we have more than a few ideas and proponents for those ideas willing to try to roll up their sleeves to resuscitate and revitalize it.

But we have nearly as many people standing on the sidelines with their hands in their pockets waiting to say "I told you so" just in case the redevelopment efforts go sideways. We need to remember our future starts today, and not tomorrow and if you don't think about the future, you can't have one.
-bill kenny

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