Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Political Science-equal parts of neither

Next Monday is closer than last Monday, which is a good sign. Last Monday, in Norwich, CT, the town where I live but not where I'm from, we discovered the other thing, like weather, that everyone talks about but about which no one seems to actually do anything. We found another situation in which we didn't miss a chance to miss our chance. We became a variation of that motivational poster you've seen of the basketball sitting lonely and abandoned at the foul line and beneath it, in somber letters, the observation that 'you'll miss every shot you never take.'

Except, here, we'd have a lot of roses, a baseball stadium with hardly anyone in it and a lot of vacant storefronts. Springsteen could remake that video right here-heck, there's probably tax credits from the CT Film Commission involved and it's not like we'd even have to watch the clip.

Some eight (plus a few days) months after two developers, Northland Investment Corporation and Bourbon Street Norwich LLC had submitted proposals for the slightly larger than 60 acre parcel of land called the Norwich Hospital, the Norwich City Council got around to giving them an answer. (The big chunk, 419 acres, is in neighboring Preston and I wouldn't be surprised to see them start to call it the Preston Hospital.)

Last Monday the Mayor and City Council decided to turn down both proposals and add the project, itself, to an economic summit the Mayor is hosting this coming Monday at 5 PM in City Hall. He's counting on many of the folks who stopped attending the meeting of the Administrative, Planning and Economic Development Committee (whose dissolution he called for about twenty-six months after he'd reconsitituted it), but who never tired of complaining about how little it did and how much of their time it took up, to participate and do something many of them may be uncomfortable about doing: plotting a route for economic development and taking responsibility for making it happen.

We like sidelines in the Rose City, and sitting on them, a lot. We like saying publicly it doesn't matter where a good idea is from (as long as the persons in charge can take the credit)-guess which part of that sentence we say out loud and which part, not so loud. Same as where you are, right. See? We are all the same, in too many ways for too many days.

I'm not known for patience-either having it or thinking of it as a virtue when inaction is so often confused for patience. But you already know that, right? It's not like we don't have a process here in Norwich to create Smart Growth and economic development. Just look at our website and the listing of boards, advisories, commissions , so many people in the same device.

There are hundreds of citizens through many of these committees with a role in the revitalization of the Rose City, and others, such as the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC (350K doesn't buy much of a web presence it seems. Has the City Council seen this site?), who aren't listed on the city website but who should be included.

With this many well-meaning people, why does it seem to be so difficult to get projects in Norwich started and then accomplished? It took eight months to say 'no, but thanks' the right amount of time for a decision? Come to think of it, what's the process for finding out what 'Norwich' (= you + me who live here) 'wants' on the hospital property and how should we tell developers to go about it? Do we want a floor polish or a dessert topping-we can't have both at the same time (and I'm holding out for a pony ride for my birthday).

Working with the Mayor and his charter-mandated role in economic development, all the players in Norwich should be able to define the process and then refine the product. And yet, it doesn't happen. Do developers pass Norwich by because we may not be as 'user friendly' and transparent in their eyes as we see ourselves? And shouldn't we ask that of them, or of ourselves? Sorry-I forgot, I'm NFH (Not From Here).

You know what? I fear we don't think we have problem (only everyone else does) and that's why we have no desire or reason to alter our approach, which leaves us to always do what we've always done. Sadly, that will always get us what we've always gotten. Take a look at downtown Norwich, our tax bills, the growth (and lack of it) on the grand list and you can decide how well 'this is how we've always done it' is working out.

ALL of us, elected and appointed officials, the professionals who work for Norwich, and we, the voters, have to start working next Monday afternoon from 5 until whenever at the workshop/economic summit/pancake breakfast/hootenanny [I defer to whatever the Mayor wishes to call it] to define what the Next Norwich looks like, with as much specificity as we can, and then refine the tools and talents we'll need to make that happen.

Continuing to hope 'this all works out' is not working-hope is NOT a plan. And a plan without a purpose, milestones, course of action or method to measure results is yet another Monday evening City Council meeting. Here in Norwich we're all waiting for someone else. We're at a point where incidents and accidents are distracting us from building a better place for ourselves and our families. The gap between promise and performance is a chasm. We can do better-we have to.
-bill kenny

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