Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Identity Crisis

At last week’s Economic Summit, Cicero Booker mentioned something about a certain city status or ranking that he felt Waterbury should have because it would be beneficial to Waterbury. It wasn’t clear to me what he was talking about (partly because he wasn’t sure of the acronym), but the gist was that this status is reserved for city’s with a population of 500,000 or more; Booker suggested we petition to gain this status, even though our population is under 110,000.

On numerous occasions, I’ve heard and read descriptions of Providence, RI as a role model for what Waterbury’s development could be. Providence’s population is 60% larger than Waterbury’s. Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island, as well as the state’s largest city. It does not seem comparable to me.

Brass City Records used to have (maybe still has?) a sign in their window calling themselves a college music store in a grammar school town (or something similar to that... I can’t remember the exact quote). It captured some of the essence of Waterbury—there’s plenty to do if you’re under 12, and almost nothing to do if you’re 20.

Two years ago, one of the city’s bus drivers was quoted in the newspaper, describing Waterbury as a “country city.” I thought it was an excellent description.

Waterbury is a small city composed largely of residential neighborhoods designed very much like suburbs. One of the great things about Waterbury is that it has all of the classic features of a town, but is large enough that you don’t ever have to leave town or own a car to get what you need (with some exceptions).

I think the best way for Waterbury to succeed is to build on our assets, rather than attempting to be something we’re not. We don’t have a population of 500,000, so we shouldn’t waste time wishing we were. If we’re looking for success models, let’s look at cities our own size, not ones that are significantly larger.

Waterbury’s brass industry was established and flourished early on because of our assets: numerous streams running down steep hills, creating power to run the mills; and a convenient location at the intersection of the main road running east-west across the state and the road running along the Naugatuck River to the Housatonic River in Derby, which provided access to shipping routes.

Our assets today: that same convenient transportation convergence (greatly modernized, of course); our pleasant town-like residential neighborhood qualities; and the incredible diversity of our population.

Let’s focus on our assets and build from the ground up.

No comments: