Woog’s World / ‘Best wishes’ for Westport in the new year
It’s that most wonderful time of year. My mailbox is flooded with Christmas and “holiday” cards. There are photos of smiling families, drawings of wreaths and reindeer, and newsletters detailing every major event of 2018.
Many cards include “best wishes” for 2019. It’s a phrase as generic as “yours truly” or “let’s get together soon.” But it’s also the essence of this time of year. These are days when we take stock of the past year. We reflect on what went well, and what did not. Then we consider what we wish for in the year ahead.
I don’t wish for material things. I’ve got a roof over my head, health, a job I love, and friends and family I care for. I have not been affected by wildfires, hurricanes, floods or any other disaster, natural or man-made.
I wish we had a normal human being as president, a functioning Congress, and a political system that does not favor wealthy donors, hidden lobbyists and entrenched office holders. But that’s not what “Woog’s World” is about. This column covers local issues. So forget I said all that.
I do have some wishes for Westport. I’m not sure if Santa Claus, a genie or anyone else can grant them. But if we think and talk about them — hey, you never know. Wishes can come true.
I wish that we would stop talking about the Compo Beach bathroom. The venom and vitriol spilled over this topic is disheartening. Town officials have been accused of lies, deception and far worse. Politicians who voted for it are slammed for spending way too much money. The pickleball posse has been painted as a special interest group concerned only with keeping a pristine view of the beach.
Enough, people. A vote was taken. An attempted referendum failed to get enough signatures. The bathroom will be built. It will be ADA- and FEMA-compliant, so it will be accessible to wheelchairs and won’t wash away in the next hurricane. Haters will end up using it.
Remember the brawl over the Compo Beach playground? Opponents claimed it would ruin the vista, draw out-of-towners, and attract drug-using, sex-crazed teenagers. Today it’s one of Westport’s prime attractions. That’s will happen with the South Beach bathroom too (OK, it won’t be an “attraction.” You know what I mean).
I also wish that the heated debate over what comes next, now that moldy Coleytown Middle School is closed due, will center on what’s right for our entire town — educationally and fiscally — rather than on what is right for each person’s own child.
This is a huge problem. It will be a costly one, too. But we need to concentrate on questions like what is the best setup for all our schools, what educational programs do we want to deliver and how, what are the long-term implications of what we decide, and what is the best way to pay for them.
It’s easy to argue that my child’s sixth-grade year should not be disrupted, or that I don’t want my taxes to rise. But that’s exactly why our national political scene is so dysfunctional now (sorry — I said I wasn’t go there. Sometimes I can’t help myself).
The Coleytown middle school/future of Westport’s educational system debate demands due diligence, honest dialogue and strong consensus. Not everyone will be thrilled with whichever difficult decisions are made. But I wish we can make them for the right, townwide reasons, rather than the wrong, me-first ones.
I wish as well that we could solve our downtown dilemma. We have some great, funky little stores — Savvy + Grace and The Brownstone leap to mind, for you last-minute holiday shoppers — but the number of empty storefronts is dying-mill-town depressing. Next year’s opening of the Norwalk mall just off Interstate 95 Exit 16 cannot be good for Westport merchants, either the local mom-and-pop or national chain store variety.
We’ve heard some positive things. Landlords promise they’re wooing new tenants. Flood mitigation efforts are underway. But promises can’t step national economic trends or tides, and you can fool Mother Nature for only so long.
More is needed. I wish we could reclaim Parker Harding Plaza, turning asphalt into green space that honors the Saugatuck River, not cars. I wish we could make Main Street a true destination — with benches and tables and places to hang out, like Europe or Broadway. I wish we had a pedestrian bridge across the river, so the cool shops and places like Winfield Deli just across the way are more than after-thoughts, and restaurants like The ‘Port could have gotten the foot traffic they deserved.
I know that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But I know this is true too: I wish all my “Woog’s World” readers best wishes for a happy, healthy and wonderful 2019.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.