Wednesday, August 4, 2010

There's Safety in Numbers

I had someone explain to me last week, as if I were not aware of it, that 'Norwich is not ...' (a town in this region known for having Julia Roberts work in a pizzeria). The person making that observation looked nothing like Carmen San Diego who would know these things, but I've lived in southeastern Connecticut long enough to recognize the truth in that statement. As a matter of fact, the list of other places that Norwich is NOT is longer than my arm, but I think that's part of the problem that residents, old and new, have with our city and with one another.

"How can we be in if there is no outside?' We need to agree on definitions of who we are, as residents and neighbors, and why we are here. I will concede there are people who have settled in Norwich as a result of losing a bar bet; we can probably remove them from this discussion; but everyone else, old, young, male, female, whatever color in the rainbow you choose to be, all the rest of us are in this together, some more so than others. And if I may, let's define ourselves in positive terms.

As a parent of two young children when my wife and I settled here in the fall of 1991 neither we nor Norwich are the same as we enter early August of 2011. What we are looking for now, a small city with interesting places to meet and restaurants in which to eat, is different from what those with school children seek, or those working shifts at one of the casinos or those who lived their lives here and are looking forward to a quiet retirement. And all of look to those who lead the city to deliver to each of us what we want.

Those who have been here for decades have memories and meanings that those who've arrived more recently can't comprehend or understand. Long-time residents look at downtown and see the ghosts of Norwich past and fear that none of what once was can ever return. Others, driving through the same downtown to work beyond the city, see potential and promise all along the route even if it's not 'textbook downtown' while still others see only empty storefronts and defeat. Our challenge is not that we each see a different Norwich but that each of our visions of where we live shares a common theme that has us as victims who are powerless to change our own story.

That's where we need to accept that change begins with us and moves from house to house, street to street and across every neighborhood. We've tried countless variations of "help needs to come from Hartford or Washington or from the lone developer on the grassy knoll." And when all is said, nothing is done. 

Some of us seem to think we must do everything ourselves and wait, somewhat aloof, until the world is ready to find us. Except when you look at the history of here, Norwich has always been at its best when it has been a part of the bigger world. It's when we've retreated into our separate villages and eyed those approaching from beyond our borders with suspicion and distrust that we have failed. We've spent so much time waiting for a moment that we cannot even define, much less recognize.

It's what we do in the space between our birth and death, choosing to be an exclamation or an explanation, that matters. We have become a city of cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Every new idea, every different proposal, is examined to see what benefit 'they' derive at 'our expense.' How about this, who cares? 

There's a long time yet until the City Council's public hearing on the Economic Development Bond proposals on August 16th and a great deal more to learn on every side of that discussion. When we talk to one another, not at each other; when we choose collaboration over confrontation; when we seek to be inventive rather than hurl invective, no matter who we have been until that moment, we all become citizens of the same city, the city we each call home, no matter our language, culture or color.
-bill kenny

No comments: