Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bridgeport's Present and Future

I spent about 15 minutes strolling around downtown Bridgeport after the Long Island Sound Citizens Summit a couple of weeks ago. Among my impressions were that this compact area still had plenty of beautiful buildings, still in good shape, from its golden era. Another impression was that in the middle of a Friday afternoon, there was no street life at all.

Every time I hear Mayor Bill Finch speak (including at the Citizens Summit) I’m impressed with his vision for the city. I came away from my walk with a dozen questions about Bridgeport’s future.

Then this morning, the mayor himself (@MayorBillFinch) tweeted a link to this story, from Metropolis magazine, which answers virtually every question I had.

A few key paragraphs:

A short stroll from the train station, the downtown area is tantalizing. It’s small but has a decent mix of handsome historic buildings, inoffensive modern ones, and the usual oversupply of parking garages. Unlike downtown Stamford, 23 miles west, it hasn’t been redeveloped into one seamless, soulless office park. …

So this is it, the moment for Bridgeport and other struggling cities (like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland…) to blossom. It’s time for a revival of those cities that were abandoned by the industries that once sustained them and have thus far been untouched by the waves of prosperity that have buoyed our showcase cities. Why now? The conventional wisdom about cities has finally changed. …

So far, the evidence in Bridgeport of a newfound love affair with the city is real but modest. Eversley takes me on a walking tour of downtown. There are old banks, like Citytrust, whose offices have been converted to desirable rental apartments, and ones like the squat, temple-shaped Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank building, which is still awaiting rescue. The developer Eric Anderson restored the old Arcade Hotel and has attracted a cupcake bakery, a Mexican café, and a nonchain pharmacy to the downtown’s lovely 19th-century light court. Another developer, Philip Kuchma, recently completed a complex called Bijou Square, a historic restoration paired with new construction, which includes 84 units of housing and a 1910 theater reopening this summer with indie films, live entertainment, and a lobby bar.

By the way, here a some things I had to say in August about Bridgeport’s really big, really expensive sewage infrastructure needs, which are essential to a thriving waterfront.

It’s time to show Bridgeport some love -- I just wish at this point it had more to love.


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