Farewell To A City Friend

CT Post reporter Vinti Singh pens a poignant farewell piece as she departs for a new job. Friday is her last day on the job, according to the story that appeared in the Post, reproduced here:

I hope one day I can say I was there to see Bridgeport come alive again. I moved to the city about a year and a half ago, and I was one of the first tenants to move into developer Phil Kuchma’s new apartment building on the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Lafayette Circle. I watched with anticipation as retailers and restaurant owners slowly moved in to the retail spaces on the first floor. (Oh look, a dry cleaner has opened downstairs. How convenient! A new tapas bar–glad to have another option when going out on Friday night.)

Moving trucks parked on the corner became a common sight, and I felt like I was always dodging a sectional sofa or end tables coming in as I was headed out to work. Lots of types of residents–retired seniors, young families and a lot of young professionals–began to call my building home. In the last year, some of those faces have become quite familiar. Some of those people have become my best friends. Bijou Square is not only where we live. It’s where we eat (the pot de creme at Épernay Bistro is my favorite), it’s where we get cultured (independent movies at the Bijou Theatre), and where we drink too much (hey, we live right upstairs. We only have to be lucid enough to get off the elevator.)

The experts like to talk about smart growth and how it’s necessary to build up our urban centers to retain our young professionals. At least in my experience, the experts are right. I was recently offered a job in Pennsylvania. It offered more money and more opportunity for growth, but I didn’t accept it right away. One of the major reasons was because in the last year and a half, Bridgeport has become home. I feel like I am part of the regrowth. I feel vested. Whenever there are more than two downtown Bridgeport residents in one place, the conversation often turns to what we can do to make the city better. A lot of our ideas never become anything more than just ideas. But the passion is there and we’re ready to support the things that do actually happen.

But in Connecticut, places like Fairfield Avenue are not as common as they should be.

“As we start our careers, not earning high salaries, our limited choices in Connecticut (currently) include: expensive homes or apartments we can’t afford to buy or rent; neighborhoods with crime and blight that no one should have to experience; living far from our work or social connections; or living with our parents far too long. These choices often lack the sense of community and interesting things to do that other states have,” according to a policy proposal prepared by the Partnership for Strong Communities using input from young professionals in the state.

Bridgeport is one of those few havens for young professionals.

It’s not just our urban centers we need to save, either.

I used to cover the town of New Canaan, and I wrote about one of their biggest yearly events, the Holiday Stroll. It’s a night in early December when Santa ho-hos into town on a fire truck, carolers parade down the streets, and the stores serve hot chocolate and cookies to their customers. I interviewed a lot of people that night, but they said what made it so special was not all the simulated Christmas spirit. It was running into their neighbors they hadn’t seen sometimes in months, and for just one evening feeling like they lived in not a postal code, but a town.

For the past three years, I’ve listened to laments about the decline of Connecticut’s downtown centers, how the mom-and-pops tragically must succumb to national retailers to keep the historic squares alive. If Planning & Zoning Commissions allow for mixed-use residential housing, they might be able to save them. A strong young professional and retired community can bring them back to life. That will require Connecticut’s bedroom communities to stop being terrified of letting “affordable housing” in, but that’s just a matter of changing preconceived notions.

When people talk about Bridgeport, they always talk about its potential. If it stays on the track I’ve watched for the last year and a half, that potential could translate into reality.


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