A vision for downtown Westport

There's a bold new vision for downtown Westport -- one in which man-made structures work in harmony with the beautiful surroundings instead of overtaking them.

The proposals to reinvigorate the town's economic and cultural center, unveiled by Robert Orr at the Downtown Plan Subcommittee's meeting last week, are fascinating and the possibilities are exciting.

We're particularly like the idea of removing the parking area along the Saugatuck River to create a walkway where people can enjoy the scenic view and pop in local shops without having to contend with traffic. Building on this idea, we believe part of the committee's considerations should be to employ this same concept to Main Street.

Let's close it to vehicles and create an area where the community can walk, shop and dine freely. Let's jump-start the pulse to the heart of downtown Westport and truly bring it to life.

Make no mistake, we have no illusions. We know that -- as has been the case in the past when the prospect of closing Main Street to vehicles was brought up -- not everyone will like this idea. However, we think in the long-term it is the right move for all Westporters -- residents, merchants and property owners. In the end, if Main Street is closed to automobiles and converted into a vibrant people-friendly place, we believe it will be a boon to business, and make Westport a beacon of light amidst an otherwise drab modern suburban landscape.

Just imagine Main Street without the line of SUVs and vehicles on both sides, without cars driving past ... not a vehicle in sight. Now, add grass, cobble stone or bricks along the ground, plant more trees, set up benches and fountains and create spaces for outdoor dining. And the people, oh, the people -- they will flock to this incredible downtown, to walk or sit and read a book, to paint or to talk and, of course, to shop. It's an entirely different and refreshing experience -- an altogether more enjoyable one.

This idea is certainly not new. It has been employed with great success in other parts of the country, such as Burlington, Vt., and Boulder, Colo. -- two places that are, like Westport, home to intelligent, artistic and kind-hearted people.

This concept became reality in nearby South Norwalk two weeks ago for the SoNo Arts Festival, when Washington Street and a handful of adjacent roadways were shut down so visitors could walk freely and browse through the many tents set up by vendors. If you were there, you know how cool it was.

Indeed, there's something strangely special about walking in the middle of a street, perhaps because we know that they are typically ruled by the all-mighty automobile. But this need not be the case. We must reclaim our roads for the betterment of people, for the betterment of the community -- and what better place for it to start than Main Street, Westport, USA?