Woog's World: What does it mean to be a Westporter? A spring checklist.
It's suddenly late April. The grass is finally green. Daffodils blaze a brilliant yellow. A month ago we thought spring would never come. Somehow, it always does.
The new season brings an old rite: spring cleaning. All across Westport we toss out old clothes, sweep the sand from the driveway, get the grill going. (Don't forget Shred Day, 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 9 -- a chance to take all those tax forms, medical records and secret documents to the Westport-Weston Health District, 180 Bayberry Lane.)
It's time too to sweep out our metaphorical junk. As days lengthen and the sun brightens, we might want to take a fresh look at some old ideas. So as that last patch of blackened snow finally disappears, and you lounge for the first time this year on your newly painted deck, here are a few ideas to chew on. There are no right or wrong answers, but this is Westport, so everyone will have an opinion.
What do we really think about open space? The Baron's South controversy brought this question to the fore, and it's a big one. Is it important to conserve the property at all costs, because "once it's gone, it's gone forever?" Or is that an unrealistic concept, given imperatives like the need for senior housing and an expanded Senior Center? Should a 22-acre site like Baron's South sit untouched -- a Central Park-like "crown jewel" just steps from downtown -- or do we have an obligation, since we own it, to "use" it?
What do we really owe our seniors? In a town filled with big homes and a limited number of other options -- a few condo complexes, basically -- how can we make sure that older Westporters stay in town? Or is that an individual problem, and not the town's? Is senior housing the same as "affordable housing," or are they two separate issues?
Speaking of housing, are we satisfied with the current regulations regarding teardowns and new construction? Every week, it seems, WestportNow publishes a photo of a house headed for the wrecking ball. The caption often says, "Because the house was built more than 50 years ago, the application will be reviewed by the Westport Historic District Commission." A few weeks later, we see another shot: a vacant lot where the more-than-50-year-old house once stood. Some of the homes are not architecturally significant and beyond their sell-by date. Others are handsome structures that add to our streetscape and history. Do we like what we're losing, and what we're gaining? Are new regulations needed? Or do we have too much regulation already in town?
What's up with mom-and-pop businesses, anyway? We often talk about the loss of these stores downtown. Back in the day, we say, all the shopkeepers knew everyone. They were Westporters, and invested in this town. Now "the chains" have overtaken Main Street, and they're on their way to doing the same up and down the Post Road. Can -- or should -- we do anything to help locally owned businesses (as, we are often reminded, Fairfield and New Canaan do in their downtowns)? Is that completely unrealistic in today's economy? What, in fact, should be the goal of downtown: Is it a hub for Westporters to shop and socialize, or a high-end draw for the entire region?
Are we satisfied with the messages we send our kids? On the one hand, we hear how difficult it will be for them to succeed in the global 21st century; just staying afloat means working harder than we ever did on STEM subjects. Standardized tests are becoming ever more important, so they need to buckle down there, too. On the other hand, we hear how damaging all this pressure is on the kids: to take the toughest courses, receive the highest grades, get into the "best" schools. And what about parenting? Are all the fears -- from bike riding on our streets to standing unsupervised at a bus stop -- warranted? How do we balance the freedom and openness we love here in Westport, with the dangers we hear lurk everywhere?
Finally, what does it mean to be a Westporter? If we say we moved here for the arts, are we supporting our cultural institutions? If we came because of the schools but our kids are now gone, do we still do what we can for education? As we read about the growing gap between America's rich and poor, do we wonder about Westport's role in this?
Yeah, I know. Those are lots of very tough questions. But spring is here. The boat goes in the water, the pool opens soon. As we enjoy the good life, perhaps we'll find a few minutes to ponder them.