Woog’s World: Westport is full of double standards
Here in Westport, we sometimes wear our hands out patting ourselves on the back. First plastic bag ban east of the Mississippi: Check! Plastic straw ban: Check! Sustainability task force, Go Green initiatives, net zero by 2050 — check, check, check!
Yet if you check under the hood, we’re hardly as virtuous as we’d like to think. The town that leads Connecticut in per capita Tesla registrations is also chock-a-block with Range Rovers, Grand Cherokees, and enough SUVs to sustain an entire United Arab Emirate.
We build energy-efficient homes and keep the swimming pool heated and open through Thanksgiving. Those same homes have so many rooms that some of them don’t even have names. They also have four-car garages because it’s an unwritten rule that in Westport every driver needs his or her own vehicle.
We live our lives a lot like that. Westport has its yin and yang; we’re torn between the push toward progressivism and the pull to be just another American suburb (if quite a bit wealthier).
We revere our history. Newcomers move here for the New England charm, the lovely streetscape, the sense that this place is rooted in and honors its past.
Yet we tear down those same homes with abandon, not to mention the century-old trees surrounding them. We build faux stone walls and add fences on top, shutting the streetscape off from the street. We love our neighborhoods, but we have no idea who our neighbors are.
We love the concept of mom-and-pop stores too. We all wish there were more of them everywhere. But we shop online, not at Savvy + Grace, Indulge by Mersene or Le Rouge by Aarti. We hit them up every time we solicit donations for a benefit — we learned long ago that chains are chintzy — but we seldom say “thank you” with our feet and our wallets.
Westporters are fitness fanatics. We go to the gym, spin centers and yoga classes. And we drive maniacally there, cutting off everyone in our path in our zeal to park as close to the entrance as possible.
We are not pleased that our roads have been overtaken by every driver on the Merritt Parkway, and every driver and trucker on I-95. We bemoan the fact that Waze has made not only the Post Road but Cross Highway, Long Lots and Greens Farms Road into just-slightly-better alternatives any time there is a fender bender on the highway.
Yet who among us has not used Waze to do the same, in some other town?
We love to say we are an arts-loving community. We are rightfully proud of many organizations, including the Artists Collective of Westport. This vibrant, eclectic group has found a home at the Westport Country Playhouse’s Sheffer Studio. But if we really walked the arts talk, we’d fill the Playhouse to capacity for every show. One of the first summer theaters in the country — and about to celebrate its 90th season — the Playhouse deserves far better support from our “arts-loving community” than it gets.
Westport is an extremely generous town. We volunteer, fundraise, walk and work for an astonishing variety of causes. We donate furniture for immigrants, give toys to impoverished kids, and tutor adults whose education fell far short of our own.
We appreciate the dedication of our town employees. We would not be the Westport we are without our teachers, firefighters, police officers, EMTs, Public Works workers and many more.
Some of them live absurd distances from Westport; they can’t afford to live here. We have done a decent job of providing housing for some low-income residents — far better than tightly written state regulations give us credit for — but we could do more.
Not every developer comes in with nefarious plans; not all use affordable housing as an extortion sword to hang over our heads. There are legitimate ways to provide more housing to folks who can’t otherwise afford Westport, and whose presence could greatly enrich our entire community.
Does all this make us hypocritical? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine that Westport is any more or less conflicted than any other community. It’s possible to want to take the virtuous high road, yet flip off the other driver when (this one’s on you, Waze) the road gets too crowded.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be better. We always can. We can curb our waste. We can care for our past. We can shop locally. We can become Playhouse patrons. We can remind ourselves that we live in a wonderful, caring community — one we are blessed to enjoy.
And we can never forget that with that privilege comes great responsibility. That’s my wish for the new year and the new decade.