January 2010 is when I made my conversion from your standard neighborhood kvetcher to advocate. I had moved to Norwalk five years earlier, following my wife's job, and I remember my impressions on arriving in town, pulling off 95 onto the Post Road, driving past crumbling and overgrown sidewalks. I wasn't very impressed.
Then I started discovering things...the awesomeness of Norwalk's working harbor, the beach, the restaurants in SoNo. It took me awhile to notice the Norwalk River, hidden as it is behind the loading docks of strip malls, but I took a raft trip and was blown away.
There aren't many towns in America that have the advantages that Norwalk has and yet nobody in Norwalk seemed to notice...or so I thought. I would complain to my wife, "Why aren't there cafes and parks along the river? Why is it so hard to walk around town? Why does it feel like I'm risking my life riding my bike?" Having kids here made these questions even more pertinent.
Finally, I decided to join whatever organization was advocating for a more beautiful, pedestrian and bicycle friendly Norwalk...and discovered that there was none. So Livable Norwalk was born.
My first blog post was a vision for a redesigned intersection in front of Lockwood Mathews. Later posts fantasized about a Norwalk streetcar or even a Norwalk gondola and re-imagined East Norwalk's Cemetery Loop. I gathered data on pedestrian and bicycle accidents in Norwalk, showing both that there is a lot more walking and biking than most people realize and that vulnerable users are getting hit all the time.
It turned out I wasn't the only person thinking about these things. In fact, there were individuals all over Norwalk who cared deeply about these issues, but nobody knew anybody else. Livable Norwalk's greatest accomplishment has been bringing people together...nearly 200 people so far.
The Beach Road Safety group has been the culmination of this process, as several Norwalkers who had never been involved with advocacy have come together to form one of this city's most formidable advocacy groups. Good luck to any aspiring political leader who doesn't think Marvin Elementary kids need a safe walk to school.
Strong winds are blowing at our back. Nationally, the Livable Streets movement has taken off, with nearly every major city reorienting itself towards calming traffic and becoming pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Generation Y drives less than the generations before it, and ultimately every town is learning that the path to future growth runs not through wider roads and bigger parking lots, but through attractive, walkable downtowns. True, not everybody in our current generation of civic leaders gets it, but there's no question that their replacements will.
Change takes time and all this progress can't come soon enough. My oldest daughter is four and she's growing up quickly. So, when the opportunity came to move to San Francisco, one of the most walkable cities in the country, my family and I took it. We've found a great place next to Golden Gate Park. I have visions of walking my daughters to school and biking to work...simple pleasures that I've been dreaming about for a long time.
It's tough to take my leave just as real change is starting to come to Norwalk. However, I'm heartened to see how little this movement relies upon me. It seems safe streets have entered the civic conversation, the young families of Norwalk are demanding it and the council is starting to listen. There are plenty of capable people who are pushing this movement forward. Join Livable Norwalk on Facebook to get to know them.
For eight years I've been happy to call Norwalk my home. Some days, when I ride with my daughter to the beach then grab a Mr. Frosty's ice cream on the way back, I feel like I'm living in paradise. I still see the harbor, the beach, SoNo, Wall Street, Stew Leonard's and the river and imagine the possibilities. Someday soon, a visionary leader is going to take the helm and put it all together into an amazing city. I trust that you will have a role to play in this revolution.