Our downtown Dunkin Donuts closed this past weekend, and I am distraught by the news. We walked there several times a week, and the manager Kim always had chocolate munchkins waiting for my children.
I am a homeowner in downtown, and my husband and I made a choice to raise our young family in the downtown area. We purchased our downtown home just two years ago. We both work in Norwich, and we believe in walkability, in supporting a downtown tax base, and the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity our neighborhood provides our young children.
Sadly, all anyone has to do is look at a map of downtown to understand that decisions are made in this city to promote empty storefronts, vacancy, and divestment.
- There are four major roads that lead into downtown from the West Side, which is the busiest section of traffic and commerce in Norwich (Church Street, Main Street, Water Street, and Chelsea Harbor Drive). Two of these streets only lead out of the city (Main Street and Water Street); meaning drivers cannot use them to access the city by car. Water Street only leads up and away from downtown establishments, and puts drivers in front of our City Hall, and guides them towards the Historic District, again leaving no access to the downtown. Chelsea Harbor Drive is the only road leading directly into the city, and provides drivers with access out of downtown via the one-way-out-Main Street, and the Viaduct that enables drivers to avoid downtown all together. Furthermore, when visitors arrive at the corner of Chelsea Harbor Drive and Main Street, the most prominent business is a storefront that provides bail bonds.
- City establishments east of Broadway suffer even more. Franklin Street could be a bustling district, but there isn’t a direct route onto Franklin Street, even from the treasured historic district. There are just more one-way streets leading drivers away from city commerce. Bath Street points away from the city, which prohibits access to Franklin Street from Broadway, Union Street, and Chestnut Street. Again, isolating these businesses from people who may drive into downtown.
- The two main parking garages on Chelsea Harbor Drive/Market Street are far from city services, like the city library and city post office, which are several blocks east of the parking garages.
- The City’s major public transportation hub, sits just outside of the city limits on West Main Street, not Main Street.
- The open public meeting space, Brown Memorial Park, is separated from city commerce by Chelsea Harbor Drive, which is the only access to the City, so it is a busy road, and does not promote an ease of, “grabbing your coffee and taking it down to the water.”
- Waterfront investment and entertainment at American Wharf is not actually within the downtown limits.
- Not on the map, but important to include, is drivers see that there are no benches, no bus stops, and zero places to sit to enjoy the center city.
City planners, you made decisions to make our downtown impossible to navigate, you provide parking, but not near services people might need or enjoy, you deliberately direct traffic away from anything east of Broadway, and you promote the leaving of the city with more one-way roads pointing out of the downtown, then towards it.
Do not scratch your heads, and blame a false economic downtown for our vacant and empty storefronts. You made choices, and these are the consequences. Imagine if you planned streets that promoted easy visitation of downtown, and ample parking near services citizens want access to, and imagine you subsidized business that we need, like grocery stores, and medical clinics. Envision walkability, and imagine the tax revenue of a bustling downtown. It is a choice you can make.