Everyone enjoys a nice neighborhood. No one likes to grow up in squalor and poverty. In the best of cases, the redevelopment of neighborhoods includes a sincere, genuine plan to empower the poor people of a village rather than create a small percentage of affordable housing for some of them while booting out the rest in favor of folks with deeper pockets.
At Norwalk’s city hall, Mayor Harry Rilling and the departments he supposedly guides and manages has been focused on making Norwalk a more lucrative place amongst the Fairfield County towns. But his idea of growth leaves all the poor people behind and throws in a mega mall as the welcome mat to what could be a city with great character. In its ghetto, which is called Washington Village, the mayor and his Norwalk Redevelopment Agency have big plans. The plan, recently stuck down by the courts was to create an urban apartment complex village to replace the plantation-style brick buildings that currently house a mostly African-American population. As it stands now, Washington Village is not really a village, but a lonely, unkept park surrounded by streets of constantly vacant commercial buildings. It is as if the neighborhood is being gutted and left to wilt in preparation for Rilling’s Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (Gentrification Agency).
This is not how you modernize a village. This is not how you help people. This is how you push people away. It is a practice in apathy. It is a willful choice to allow poverty to deepen its roots and to be used as a weapon to put stress on a people. The message to them is to leave, to not hold on to hope. The village is ugly. There are no gardens. There are no fountains. There is nothing inviting about the place and that is what is wanted by the current mayors administration.
At the heart of all this is the South Norwalk Community Center. a red-brick box of a building with another boss administrator who is on a crusade to continuously revamp the cabinets of the building while having no sports programs for youth in the two years he has been at the helm. To date, his board of advisors has completely deserted him with the onset of a social media campaign I have helped facilitate to usher him out and bring in real, caring people with priorities that place youth and family first, regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. His director was fired and questions are mounting about how he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars for cabinets and not one quarter appropriated for community sports programs, chess clubs, dance lessons or even an executive function skill coaching group to rival that of the more affluent Fairfield County towns.
Retaining the character of a town involves retaining the individuals and families of that town. When we empower people to better help themselves we step outside the norm and begin an adventure of moving shoulder to shoulder with people of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds united by ideals that are part of the bedrock of our democratic republic. These are that all men (and women) are created equal and that we have all the supports and accommodations we need to pursue happiness. Rather than look the other way and let the wheels of apathy roll over these people I choose to add my little voice to a growing chorus calling for bold caringness and lovingkindness that holds its stance.
Invitations will be distributed to call for an open town hall meeting at the amphitheater since none of the 15 or so churches in the area will open its doors to this cause. The town hall meetings will serve to unite hearts and voices and create a powerful democratic bloc that can exercise its voice in how the village is enhanced.
Will the same people who were ready to redevelop the village bring the money if all the same people of the neighborhood stay put? Will the South Norwalk Community Center continue to be allowed to misallocate funds and shirk its duty to the local families.
Who will stand up for doing the right thing? This is how we fight apathy… with lovingkindness.