Woog's World / Neighborhoods woven into tapestry of Westport
We often talk of Westport as if it were one big, self-contained place. The name conjures up many images -- the beach, Longshore, downtown, Saugatuck -- but that's like describing New York City as Times Square, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street and Brooklyn.
There are plenty of other parts of the city, too. And you can't forget the other boroughs.
Westport, too, is a town of neighborhoods. Realtors know this -- it's how they sell homes -- but each of our neighborhoods has a different feel.
Compo Beach is unlike any other place in town. In the area bounded by Soundview Drive, Compo Road South, Bradley Street and Compo Beach Road, the lots are small. Homes are squished closer together than just about anywhere else. There's flooding, traffic and a constant parade of joggers, bicyclists, walkers and gawkers.
Yet the folks there would not live anywhere else. They enjoy an ever-changing seascape. The salt air makes every day smell like a vacation. A casual, barefoot lifestyle lasts throughout the year (metaphorically, of course).
Boys and girls who grow up by the beach learn independence early. Parents trust them to walk to the water and Joey's with older siblings and friends. Then come slightly longer excursions, to Elvira's. It seems strange, but I can usually tell which teenagers have spent their formative years by the sand. They carry themselves with a different type of self-assurance.
It takes a special breed to live out on Compo Cove -- the long, skinny spit of land accessible only by a pair of footbridges beyond Old Mill Beach. Your car can be a 10-minute walk away. You haul everything -- groceries, trash, toddlers -- back and forth in wheelbarrows. It's isolated, but it's also a community. It could be the most special one in Westport.
Another beach neighborhood is Saugatuck Shores. It, too, is accessible by bridges, and it also floods with regularity. One of the biggest events in recent history was the hookup of a sewer line. Getting anywhere else in Westport -- particularly schools -- takes work. Yet the views are spectacular, and if you love Cape Cod-style living but your job and friends are here, "the Shores" has tremendous appeal.
Other Westporters live as close to downtown as possible. The Evergreen/Washington Avenue/Gorham/Juniper neighborhood also has a special feel. Homes have been largely untouched by teardown mania. The streets -- though a bit busy -- promote playing by kids, and wandering into backyards and friends' houses. Something as simple as walking to the Memorial Day parade evokes feelings of small-town life that, to some, crystallize the reason they moved here.
A bit farther from downtown -- but not too far -- is the Clinton Avenue neighborhood. Clinton is the trunk; off it, roads like Calumet, Loren Lane and Fillow Street branch and curve gracefully. Pre-zoning regulation lot sizes lend a friendly feel. Homes turn over less here than in other parts of town. People tend to stay long after their kids are grown -- but somehow there are always plenty of youngsters around.
Sometimes, all an area needs to make it a neighborhood is a central location. You might not think folks in the northeast part of town would ever see each other---- the lots are large, the foliage thick -- but Christie's Country Store draws them together. Over breakfast, lunch and dinner; at the tables on the porch, and on the all-too-frequent occasions when the power is off and the generator kicks in -- Christie's is the place to be. All it lacks is a pot-bellied stove.
Some streets turn into neighborhoods only infrequently. Natural disasters draw folks together. So do block parties. Hurricanes, wind storms and the like can occur any time. Summer is filled with picnics, barbecues, three-legged races and beer. Those are the times families meet the folks next door and down the block. They talk earnestly about the importance of getting together more. Then they go home, close the door and wait until the next power outage or block party to do it.
The ultimate neighborhood -- one that never needed an excuse for people to break bread, drink wine and help each other out -- was Saugatuck. A thriving community until the construction of I-95 eviscerated it, Saugatuck stood for decades as a symbol of something Westport lost, seemingly forever.
Well, Saugatuck is coming back. It's been goosed along by the Gault redevelopment -- the multi-phase retail/office/residential project -- which in turn has attracted new restaurants, new businesses, and the rehabilitation of old homes.
If it's not already, Saugatuck will soon become the most exciting place in town. It offers life on a human scale. It's filled with places that promote personal interaction. It's walkable. It's on the water.
It's a neighborhood.