Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Further Thoughts, Farther Along

The front page photos last week in the newspaper about the work crews covering the windows in the Reid & Hughes building with plywood made me think of an old George Harrison lyric, "and my advice for those who die: declare the pennies on your eyes." 

I also recalled something I offered in this space almost exactly three years ago, neither prescient nor precocious (I am genetically incapable of either) but frighteningly familiar because so often so much of what we plan to do is what we have already done.

The Reid and Hughes Building was already dark when I arrived here in 1991. That empty, abandoned carcass of a memory for so many who grew up here and whose dreams have grown old here has stood silent and sullen, accusing every passer-by of betrayal and worse every day ever since.

In the last two-plus decades, any number of initiatives, all well-meant some more half-hearted and/or full-throated than others were launched in the hope of restoring the building but every effort seemed to just miss the mark. The successive disappointments made the next attempt that much harder until in recent years we basically gave up and abandoned the building in place.


Hiked down on Sunday to take this (and to shake my head)
Our well-meant intentions helped create a full-blown eyesore which all of us will see when and if the Rose of New England chooses to remove its rose-colored glasses and look inward with the same unforgiving gaze we reserve so often for outsiders. 

Make no mistake, we did this to ourselves and if we fail to agree on how to proceed, not just for Reid & Hughes, or just Chelsea but for all of Norwich, we are actually planning to fail.

If experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted, we have all the experience we'll ever need to rebuild the Chelsea District and the entire city. Energy and engagement along with a double dollop of hope are essential for any project but none of them, by themselves or together, is a plan and a plan is what has been conspicuous in its absence.

As those working at the Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC), the City of Norwich Planning Department, the Community Development Agency, together with volunteers on a dozen and more municipal agencies, boards and commissions know, a plan has specific, measurable, achievable, realistic targets (SMART). That is why SMART communities have plans and too many others have hope but little else. Sound familiar?

Planning involves candor. We need to be relentlessly honest with one another and to speak in clear, unambiguous language that doesn't need a decoder ring or subtitles. Where yes and no are clearly understood. Perhaps most importantly we need to agree that it's okay to disagree without becoming disagreeable. When to evaluate a proposal on its merits and not base our feelings about it on the person or group who sponsors it.


What does lost opportunity look like? Pretty much like this.
We should trust one another to create a collaboration that subordinates our individual best efforts in service of a higher communal ideal so we can more effectively and efficiently turn a specific proposal into a shared idea and adopt its implementation as our municipal goal.

We need to allow those tasked with the responsibility to evaluate the proposals to do so in an agenda-free environment using their knowledge and real world experiences to arrive at a recommendation for the City Council’s review.

We live in a world of data-driven decisions and there should be little room and less patience for soft words masking hard truths. Henry Ford who knew a little something about how to build things once offered: "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."
-bill kenny

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