Town planning has been a practice since the beginning of time. Through the years, it has taught mankind many lessons as to what works and what doesn’t. But one thing that remains constant is the great joy citizens derive from the “flavor” of their own, specific town. It’s one of the reasons we travel, take weekends in a certain town/city and bring back souvenirs to remind us of the “flavor” of the place. As Westport prepares for new developments, specifically those advocated by the Westport 2020 Committee, we need to ask ourselves what the priorities are and how can these developments be best implemented, without changing the flavor of this beloved town.
Westport has a rich history of artists, writers and actors; small boutiques with unique offerings; culture and breathtaking beauty by the water; free-thinkers and inspired souls. What we are in danger of becoming is Anytown, USA where our beautiful Main Street is no longer unique, but Main Street, USA. Instead of the interesting shops with unusual offerings that populated our Main Street, we now have the retail chains that one finds everywhere…they’re the only ones that can afford the exorbitant rents. Boutique stores like The Brownstone, Max’s Art Shop, Top This and Dovecote become ever so precious with their array of wonderful offerings.
You can’t stop progress, but you do have to put it all in a large perspective of where a place has been, where it is now and where it’s going. Scale and purpose need to be considered. Who will be coming in and how the town will be lived in need to be at the top of the list. One can’t just think about the money they will make off a new development and not consider the breathing, living atmosphere a town has. To put it bluntly, some of the buildings that have gone up in Westport are constructed to minimum code and are not of the quality that Westport deserves. It’s not enough to look pretty, it has to have good bones. So while all the plans are being considered, a new code needs to be put into place where the quality and scale of the structures need to be superior.
The master plan is to be commended in the desire to create more pedestrian space and bring in more places for people to gather and enjoy the town. However, more thought needs to be put toward the parking garage and scale. Taking the Y out of the center of town would be a mistake as that is a building that is used all day long and brings in a lot of people that either visit the town while their kids are in classes or use the town to gather after working out.
Just as an idea, would it not be better to improve what we have rather than build more and bring in more office space and restaurants? There are empty spaces right now that need to be filled. There have been storefronts empty for months, if not years. Do I even dare propose that there be a revision of rent prices so that some of our own townspeople could once again open a business here? That’s what populates this town – when you could go to The Remarkable Book Shop, owned by residents Esther and Sidney Kramer, and not only get a unique selection of the “thinking person’s” book list, but also chat with the people that you know. It’s personal. It’s authentic. It’s unique. You want to bring in people? Make it possible for residents with a wide circle of friends able to own a business again. If there is a lesson to be learned from what happened to our economy, it’s that inflating the prices of property is not the way to go…making it possible for more people to afford property and do well, is.
Alina Rodescu-Pitchon is a freelance architectural designer, photographer and writer. She is the proud mom of Ben, 25, and lives in Wilton.