It's no secret the City of Norwich isn't what it use to be. Many of the successful industries that once found a home in a once thriving community have uprooted, taking a lot of the professional workforce with them and leaving behind a void in the local job market to be filled by low-income part-time positions that hardly pay for gas to get to work, let alone a livable wage.
Despite the subtle signs of minor economic recovery in recent months that show sense of resiliency, I recently heard someone say it's little, too late; the City of Norwich has taken a turn for the worse. With increased drug use, increased crime, and a subsequent decrease in the number of young people willing to stay, it's awfully hard to disagree.
Given the combination of these conditions, it comes as no surprise that Norwich has become a more violent community. Granted, there are far more dangerous places to live (and I can still walk my dog at night without fear of being mugged). But on the other hand – and I say this from experience – one needs go no further than The Evening Sun offices on Lackawanna Ave. to hear the less than flattering conversations of passerby's on a typical weekday afternoon. And anyone who reads the police blotter has an understanding of some of the challenges the community faces.
I think all this coaxes serious questions pertaining to the overall safety of the community and how it influences youth.
Earlier this week, I came across an online discussion forum that addressed the relation between youth and their environment. The question: Does a violent neighborhood produce a violent child? The forum cited research carried out by a professor at the University of Florida who suggested there are strong links between violence and neighborhoods; and children, while affected by a number of culminating factors, are undoubtedly affected by the neighborhood where they grow up.
Of course, this isn't anything out of the ordinary to anyone familiar with nature versus nurture debate, the old question that asks if a child's actions are the product of their environment, or because they're simply hardwired a certain way. One research study after another have been conducted on the issue and there's still no finite answer. In fact, most studies indicate that no single factor or situation causes an individual to engage in violent behavior. Experts agree that there's a compromise between the two – the combination of how children are raised and their natural instinct influence how they act.
All this beckons another question of how kids are being affected in my hometown of Norwich. Because the actions of a child are heavily influence by their environment, increased drug use in the area should be alarming for several reasons. Like I said, the City of Norwich isn't exactly the hard streets of Chicago, but does that mean our much smaller population will be any less impacted by the challenges we face? I'm not sure. Norwich does, after all, have several of the factors that many experts believe influence violence, including availability of drugs, poor housing and a lack of services available.
I believe violence is a learned characteristics that can be unlearned, and when it comes to stopping violence in any community, partnerships and collaboration are more effective than isolated efforts of individuals. Which is why I have utmost respect for the people who lead community groups in the effort to make a positive change.
So what's the solution to preventing violence in our little community? Honestly if I had the answer, I wouldn't be working for the newspaper. However, I think violent behavior is less likely among youth who grow up in a community with a sense of purpose and pride, and a belief that education is important. I also believe they can be influenced by a sense of empathy for others, and the ability to get support when they need it.
True, Norwich might not be what it used to be and that has an impact on youth. But does that mean we have to accept it, and any attempt to improve the area from here on out is too little, too late? Just one more thing to ponder.