When we were discussing the three bond initiatives on the ballot this time two years ago (it doesn't seem that long ago, does it? Especially when you walk through the downtown that was supposed to be the beneficiary from the bond) I confess to never having wasted a moment's thought on any property on or near Cliff Street or the "old" Sears Building on Main Street.
As a Norwich resident who's only lived here for two decades, I'm not sure I knew the latter had ever been a Sears much as I only saw the ruins farther down on Main Street as hideous and certainly not historical as those proposing rehabilitation of the Reid & Hughes property so believe.
And yet, here we are, quite a distance from the optimism of the near winter of 2010 after two of the three bonding proposals passed, with Norwich Public Utilities having invested our money into promised gas line service expansion, but the bulk of the 3.38 million dollars earmarked for the renaissance of the Chelsea District still idle, awaiting plans and projects.
The current City Council, with four members from the previous council, are, like them, keen to micro-manage minutiae but seem less enthused in seriously involvement in the Big Picture items I, at least, elected them to lead, such as downtown redevelopment and improving our community's quality of life.
Instead of progress reports and updates on downtown economic redevelopment presented as a regular agenda item (perhaps) every quarter during a City Council meeting, we get scattered impulses and initiatives from a variety of sources, all individually interesting and maybe even of value, but without a vision of how they fit together and the political will to make them one strategy. We continue to hold handfuls of dust and dreams. And nothing more, except my favorite word for Norwich "potential."
Meanwhile, we have two (more) projects about buildings and food in downtown. The Saint Vincent de Paul Place, established in 1979 by the Diocese of Norwich, may or may not be relocating permanently to the (former) Saint Joseph School on Cliff Street. Reading the newspaper, neighbors are unhappy particularly with the City Council who will, if the past is any indicator, probably try to close Cliff Street. It's what the Norwich City Council likes to do and knows how to do very well.
The volunteers at Saint Vincent de Paul Place have been trying to empty an ocean of misery with a teaspoon of generosity for decades and very few of us want to address the larger issues such as families living in poverty and what we, as a society should be doing to repair and strengthen the social safety net. We like "the poor" a lot more as an abstraction than as neighbors.
Then there's the proposed new police station in the middle of our downtown, just as municipal leaders did in Middletown, we are told, and look at Middletown's rebirth. That a downtown police station was one of eight separate but closely coordinated initiatives involving both private and public sector leadership in Middletown gets lost in the noise-perhaps because one or the other is missing in The Rose City. Leaving only a pile of bricks in a city that loves to believe the next new building will be its salvation.
To a man with a hammer, the world is a nail-but there are so many other tools we can and should learn to use, starting today.