Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Much Better Quote

The following appeared in today's Republican-American newspaper and was written by the Rev. Dr. Jim Bradley, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the Green in Waterbury and president of the board of the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministry. I don't normally take entire articles from the paper, but I couldn't find a way to link to it.

American journalist and social critic H.L. Mencken once observed: “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

I thought of Mencken’s humor and wisdom when I read the Jan. 10 Sunday Republican’s front-page article, “Services sapping downtown.” A “solution” for “the problem” of downtown Waterbury would be to send its social service agencies “somewhere else.”

That would be simple, neat and most certainly wrong.

Many folks like me see the problem facing downtown Waterbury as one of hunger, poor education, mental illness, joblessness and poverty, not who is on the Green.

Those multiple problems have no neat or easy answers because they are systemic, not geographical. The servic es that exist for people caught in our culture’s lack of a true safety net exist downtown because that is where the people live.

Concerning neat and easy solutions, I suggest those who need housing be housed in Southbury; those who are hungry be fed in Cheshire; those who have mental health problems be treat ed in Wolcott. Troubled youth would fit into Woodbury, and those with sub stance abuse should go to Middlebury.

Get that taken care of and — poof — the problem is solved.

I live in Cheshire and cannot vote in Waterbury. However, I spend much of my time downtown at St. John’s Episcopal Church and around the Green, and I find the inner city to be a pleasant, fascinating and safe place. I know many of the people who are considered “the problem” in the Sunday article. They are kind, gentle and generous in the same proportion as the people I live around in Cheshire.

The only difference is my neighbors where I sleep are more privileged than my daytime neighbors in downtown Waterbury.

I was at a meeting a few years ago, surrounded by people like me who were fretting about “the problem.” A serious suggestion was made to move the bus stops off the Green. I was as­tonished. I sometimes ride the bus from home to the Green or back and find the people on the bus with me to be hard-working, good-humored, genuine folks. I make a point every few days to go out on the Green when all the buses roll in and day-laborers, par ents with children, senior citizens, school kids, hard-working folks with two minimum-wage jobs and folks coming to find services for their needs empty out. It is a vital and remarkable time.

The Green is flooded with life and diversity and truly dear people. I couldn’t imagine relocating the bus stops to some place that would incon venience and make life harder for the people who live and move and have their being in the midst of this city I have come to love.

“Whose city is it?” I asked at that meeting and then demanded to know where everyone in the room slept. All of us lived in one of the suburbs or pristine parts of Waterbury whose property owners would reject out of hand the proposal to place social-service agencies or emergency housing or soup kitchens or mental health/incarceration half-way houses for recovering substance abusers in their neighborhood.

The city belongs to the people who sleep here. Many folks, like me, are concerned and sympathetic visitors.

The inner city belongs to those who live or come here for the services that make their lives livable, hopeful and meaningful in ways many of us cannot comprehend.

The title of the article, so prominently placed to appeal to our darker angels, should have been services serving downtown because that’s what the myriad of agencies do with integrity, commitment and for the better good of the society that somehow has failed those who need those social services.

And until people like me and the board of the Mattatuck Museum and the former members of the Waterbury Club are willing to rehab some apartments or move downtown and sleep here so we truly can integrate the privileged with those who are not, then our call is clear.

We must address the systemic needs of the residents of the inner city politically and economically, and with our work and contributions. We must eschew easy, simple solutions and involve ourselves with profound commitment to the complex, confusing and difficult problems that are, after all, our problems as well as the problems of those we would rather have disappear and make the center of our city happy and bright.


Bryan P. Baker said...

While I understand and appreciate the Reverend's comments, there was one glaring error that needs to be addressed...

"I couldn’t imagine relocating the bus stops to some place that would inconvenience and make life harder for the people who live and move and have their being in the midst of this city I have come to love."

As you well know, no one has suggested removing the bus stops from the Green. All that has been suggested is that the busses no longer spend 20 minutes idling on the Green. Misinformation such as this, intentional or not, hurts efforts to improve our city.

Waterbury Girl said...

Ah, the bus topic... the first time I heard about it (and this experience was shared by many people I have spoken to), it was presented in terms of there being an undesirable "element" on the Green (to quote Tom Tremaglio) which would go away if we moved the bus exchange. In other words, I have heard many people say that they want to get the buses off the Green because they are prejudiced against the people who ride the buses. On only the rarest occasions have I heard anyone point out that relocating the bus exchange to a central transportation hub would be advantageous to the bus riders. It is almost always presented in terms of getting rid of the bus riders so that people who can afford to own a car will have the Green to themselves.

It boils down a poor PR. It is, in fact, hugely advantageous for the bus riders to move the exchange to a central hub. I have frequently seen people dragging luggage from the Green to the train station (and given directions on how to get there). Exchange Place was the original transportation hub in Waterbury and it should now be relocated to the train station. But, as I said, no one talks about it this way. Even you have made that same mistake--your argument above is that the Green would be so much nicer without the idling buses (which is true), but you have inadvertently disregarded the viewpoint of the people who actually use the buses.

Believe me when I say that using public transportation can be a real pain in the a$$. MetroNorth and CT Transit are difficult to deal with and at times seem pretty heartless. If everyone who wants to move the bus exchange off the Green talked about it as a logical and major service improvement for the bus users and stopped talking about how it would make the Green nicer for themselves, there would be a lot more support for the plan.