Back before computer games were indistinguishable from actual armed warfare, there was a thinkers’ game called “SimCity.” The object was to build your own thriving metropolis; as your city’s god, you could control the topography, the culture, the climate, the economy, the infrastructure, and the placement of buildings and businesses.
It was a fun little exercise in urban development, even though I mostly endeavored to see how fast I could make my little city implode by forcing it to endure the harshest and most outlandish of conditions, playing cavalierly with my citizens’ lives with my willy-nilly master plan.
I often wonder if the Powers That Be are playing “SimCity” right here in Norwich, but that would suggest higher, intelligent minds at work. Comprehensive master plan? Please. The more that I see happen in terms of “development,” the more I’m convinced there is no plan at all.
Case in point: Thursday’s headline, “Developers eye Cortland Street properties.” Let me start out by saying I’m not one to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. The fact that any developer is looking anywhere near Norwich is a good, good thing. But in terms of planning – looking at what the city needs, and where – this is another accident waiting to happen.
It saddens me, again, that we’ve become so needy for “economic development” that we’re willing to prostrate ourselves for anyone who waves a wad of cash around. Is our situation really so bleak that we’d advocate people selling their homes and businesses in favor of another drug store at a prime intersection that already has two?
Walgreen’s. There, I said it. No, it’s not official by any means. And it’s purely speculation on my part, let me be clear. But my money is on Walgreen’s being the unnamed tenant the developer seeks to site on the Cortland Street parcels.
Situating a Walgreen’s where Gary Bilow’s service station now stands would, of course, pit it directly opposite our dueling Rite Aids – making that main intersection 3 for 4 in the drug store trade. Yep, there’s a sterling example of urban planning.
It seemed preposterous enough when Rite Aid and Eckerd built competing drug stores across the street from each other (especially when we already had a Rite Aid, and two Eckerds, in other locations), but I suppose I can see the logic. Both business thrived, in fact, until the nationwide buyout of Eckerd by Rite Aid. After that, the silliness of two Rite Aids within a stone’s throw became apparent. My hunch is that it won’t be long until one of the Rite Aids, the “original” one even, stands vacant. In our game of Norwich drug store three card monte, that’ll leave us with a Rite Aid, an empty Rite Aid, and a brand new Walgreen’s anchoring the northern entrance to our downtown business district. Sounds like my willy-nilly SimCity plan at work.
I’ll readily admit that my ire is still raised by the fact that the “original” Rite Aid came into being by destroying a block of city businesses and one grand old three-story Victorian ...
Get ready folks, he’s gonna go there again ....
The Big Green House. Formerly known as 90 North Broad Street (and the onetime home of your esteemed editor), a venerable piece of Norwich architecture and history cut down, shamefully, long before its time to make way for a hideously generic home for a chain which already had a perfectly good store and location a few blocks down (which has since become a dollar store, the Baltic Avenues in our Chenango Monopoly game).
But I digress (and it felt good). Maybe it’s not a Walgreen’s at all. What if it’s a Bed, Bath and Beyond? A Best Buy? Barnes & Noble? PetSmart? The point is that we don’t know. And by we I mean the City of Norwich, those in charge of devising or at least following that supposed master plan. Nope, we don’t know what store the developer wants to bring in, but by golly we’ll bend over backwards to make sure it happens.
I’ve been around the block long enough to know that local economic development is far more complicated than Monopoly or SimCity, and not an easy game to play. As I said before, it’s great that any developer is looking at Norwich; who knows I might be excited and jump the gun, too. I don’t pretend to have all the answers; I simply, as always, urge caution. Look before you leap. Don’t be so desperate for a handful of jobs or a brand-spanking-new building that you’re willing to give away the keys to the city to do it.