Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Same Shirt, Different Day

We've had enough baseball in prime time television this week to last us until the Tigers home stand begins tonight, so forgive me if I have home runs and base hits on the brain. Some years, the Home Run Derby actually attracts more viewers than the All-Star Game and I suspect that's because as much as we applaud teamwork, patience and strategy, it's those deep, towering shots, those one-swat wonders, that get our hearts pumping, be it in baseball or in local politics.

I was thinking about that the other day while I was out walking. Point in fact, walking is actually  when I do some of my best thinking. My wife is so impressed by some of the ideas I come up with she's suggested I take up ultra-marathons. I'm not sure if that's because she enjoys my insights so much or she just wants to have the house to herself.

I was walking past the soon-to-be-gone Norwichtown Mall which is being transformed into the Norwichtown Commons. The destruction and construction is not happening at the speed of light but seems to be progressing at what I'll call the speed of thought. It's not dramatic enough to make the front page of your local newspaper every other week, but it's quiet proof that when we stay out of the way of people who have a plan and allow them to execute that plan we seem more often than not to end up with projects that have the same number of beginnings, middles and ends (one each). Nice and tidy and very symmetrical.

No one's ever going to confuse the Norwichtown Commons with the Intermodal Transportation Center, unless you're in the wholesale concrete business. The scale and scope are just that different from one another. But you can use a bus to get to the Commons, so I guess you could argue that there is a bit more of a larger plan or just sheer serendipity than a lot of other projects around here seem to have.

This time last year, there was a lot of talk about a major municipal push for rehabilitating and marketing the Route 32 side of the Thames, usually called Shipping Street. But as the summer weeks went on the talk about Shipping Street, and that's all there ever really was, pretty much ran its course and because we're attracted to bright and shiny objects we moved on and left Shipping Street to the dustbin of history.

Turns out, if we do indeed relocated the Police Station to downtown we may wish we had done more than talk about Shipping Street as all the remediation and infrastructure improvements that we didn't accomplish are still not done. We spent so much time waiting on a home run pitch we failed to pick up a couple of scratch singles.

If we only had a document to guide the deliberations of our elected and appointed leadership, to join those of us who are here now with those whom we'd hope to have live here ten to thirty years from now in a shared vision and a plan with milestones, measurable goals and defined outcomes. And then if only we could harness the energy we show in grasping at every individual straw, sorry, development proposal, we could be Norwich 2.0 instead of still talking about rebuilding 'our city.' 

Of course, the 'if only' plan I'm speaking about does exists-it's called the Plan of Conservation and Development and we revise and refine it every decade. It's being worked on now, practically in obscurity from the number of residents who've attended the meetings which is too bad because some very well-meaning people are doing as good a job as they know how on it. 

But if the past is again prologue, we'll applaud their efforts and then do things the way we always have. We have enough desk drawers to put any number of plans of action safely away, never to be seen again.  It's no one's fault, it never is. People prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that aren't and in Norwich, we have very few new problems, just old ones that have proven immune to being solved.
-bill kenny

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