Norwalk, Connecticut: or, On the Water, On the Move

I would like to play sociologist for the day; I imagine there’s no toy hard hat or child-sized lab coat I can put on to costume myself for this career. I’ll put on my thinking cap, and that will have to do.

some data visualization for you, Alex

some data visualization for you, Alex

On a Thursday morning in March of 1994 I made my first visit to Norwalk’s west side neighborhood Hospital Hill. That is, I was born. I’ve lived 15 years of my life in Norwalk, Connecticut, the state’s sixth most populous at around 88,000 residents. We have 22 neighborhoods, 4 train stations (all making their way to nearby New York City), and, according to Census data, 62 establishments pertaining to “arts, entertainment & recreation.” I wasn’t aware of this until perusing the city’s Wikipedia article. Norwalk is better known (if at all) by corporation headquarters, such as Pepperidge Farm, Priceline, Virgin Atlantic, and Xerox. This made me look into arts establishments and initiatives in the city and one is of particular interest — Norwalk 2.0.

we're not gonna change it for you!

we’re not gonna change it for you!

The non-profit organization’s subtitle is “we envision a flourishing downtown.” From reading the literature on their website, their goal is to revitalize the part of town known as Norwalk Center. The center of the city occupies a strange category common to bigger towns in Connecticut — strip malls, some green space, stores, places where day laborers are picked up. South Norwalk, however, is more vibrant, for lack of a better word. There are trendy (read: expensive) restaurants, run-off from richer towns in the area for cheaper rent. There’s the aquarium, a huge source of revenue for the city. The annual Oyster Festival takes place near by, bringing in almost five million dollars per year. South Norwalk is where people go “out,” and it’s a desirable spot to live for young people. The center of Norwalk is not, which is why I imagine this project came to be. Its founders and its benefactors want to nurture a part of town not getting a lot of attention because of SoNo, as it’s called.

And Norwalk 2.0 has accomplished things. They’ve successfully spearheaded public arts initiatives, but they also work with neighborhood development associations and participate in beautification. Its moderate success is interesting to me because I wonder if it’s a successful example of gentrification. Neither founder of the organization is billed as an “artist,” and from information on their biographies, both have lived and served in Norwalk on various committees for many years. They’re not bohemians self-selecting into these neighborhoods, as Lloyd (165) would say. This is where they live and work. No stores or businesses fitting that “twee” gentrified aesthetic have popped up in the neighborhood (barring one pizza restaurant); their installations seem more transient, and an attempt to engage people who actually live in the city. I feel as if they’re not infringing and/or changing, but showing people how things could be. As you can tell, I’m not sure how I feel about their work.

I think it really is affecting people who want to reap its benefits — people who are working under the auspices of community or arts associations. Its programming is also all in English; Norwalk has a large population of Latin American immigrant and Spanish-speaking residents that they don’t seem to cater to at all.

Post-script: I want to hear about people’s hometowns and what they do for arts initiatives, if they’re gentrifying, etc.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the data visualization boo ❤

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