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Choosing to live in Norwalk

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How many times have we heard someone say, “I have lived here all my life.” “Having grown up here, she understands the needs of this town.” “He knows how things work because he was born and raised here.”

I have heard such things all my life, and used them from time to time as well. Being a virtual transient since I left home for college at 18, it sometimes makes me sad that I did not stay in the town I grew up in, raising a family there and remaining a part of that community. My hometown was in a rural area of northern Illinois. A town of 1,100 fine people. One stop light, (oh, the scandal the day that went in!) and about six churches. Today it is a bit more sprawling. According to latest census data, it is 1,920 people strong.

Where I grew up, 300 acres of farm property outside of town is now a beautiful, natural Prairie Park and all of my family lives somewhere else. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that place fondly. When I hear those comments above, I sometimes feel inadequate, and then the day-to-day reality of work, life, family, school, etc., kicks in and I am shocked back into the present.

I have moved a lot since those days. I went to college in Wisconsin and graduate school in Alabama; lived in Chicago and New York, and worked lengthy jobs in Utah, Washington, D.C., Missouri, and Upstate New York. I settled for a time in Queens. Then I met my partner and wife, moved to Brooklyn, and in 2008, bought a house in Norwalk.

There are many folks like me. The call to follow your dream no matter where it takes you is strong. But these days we also move around a lot for work, or school, or cost-of-living advantages. People sometimes have two or three careers and a dozen or so jobs. Employers don’t have the same loyalty to their workers or their communities that they once did. Does this make people who have lived in more than one place any less valid? I don’t think so.

I wanted to be out of the big city, and so we came to Norwalk. My wife is an urban girl; I am a country boy, so it made sense to find a community that was close to transportation options and that had good schools. More suburban than my rural birthplace but less bustling than NYC, our new place still had to be as diverse as the areas we’d lived in. Norwalk was that place.

I chose Norwalk. I researched it, discovered it, and finally decided that this was where I wanted to buy a home for the long haul. When a habitual mover like me makes that decision, it takes a while for roots to grow. For me those roots took hold the day that our son came into our lives. I want him to have the stability I had for those first 18 years before college. I want him to know all the cool little places where you go to hang out, or unwind, or just be a kid.

Now the big question: Where do I fit in a world where so many people have a shared history? How do I learn those little nuances and quirks that make up the character traits of people I have not known all my life? The shorthand of those who went from cradle to school to marriage to…well, you get the idea. When do I get the inside joke, or the knowing look, when someone says something that elicits the look that says, “isn’t that just like (insert name.”)

A few years ago, I decided to stop talking and start doing. Heck, I live here now. So I joined some committees, went to some meetings, and started getting to know more of my neighbors. Strictly speaking, I am still an outsider. Truth be told, so are most of my neighbors. There are a few ways that populations grow. Babies are born into families that have lived generations in the same house. And then there’s the rest of us: people who have chosen to live here simply because it’s a good place to live. People who, having done so, want to give something back to the community they’ve chosen as theirs.

So I ask those of you who have lived in a city, a neighborhood, a house all your lives, those who know everyone in the store, the diner, or the local pub, to take a chance on someone who has come here by choice, to make a home, a life, and a difference.

Thanks for reading and for making this place the jewel that it is. You’re why I’m here.

David Heuvelman

Candidate for Common Council

10 comments

TEXAN1 August 4, 2019 at 9:42 am

I, too, have lived in one place all my life. That place is
Norwalk. Things do change. But not always for the best.
I grew up in a home where you learned the difference between right and wrong, politeness etc. Granted some of the ways might not have been the correct way but you did learn. Then some people came along and had “better” ways so discipline went out the window. First in schools then in the home. Many children weren’t held responsible
for their actions and those actions were allowed to get worse. Family breakdown came and look what’s happened! Unruly children grow into unruly adults. It’s really a shame. I’m not saying ‘corporal’ punishment is the
answer but kids can’t get away with being unruly because it just gets worse as they grow up.

Diane Fritzel August 4, 2019 at 10:51 am

I’ve lived here 14 years since I moved in with my fiance who is in his 70’s and has lived here his whole life in addition to raising his 3 sons here. Since my arrival, it has always struck me that it’s the biggest small town or the smallest big city because everyone seems to know each other and know so much about everything here.

Paul Lanning August 4, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I’m privileged to have lived almost half my life in Norwalk, finding it pleasing for many reasons.

Nonetheless, I should not have to express any such feelings in order to expect fair and sensible conduct from elected officials. I don’t have to “love” Norwalk, I don’t even have to like it. I just have to pay my taxes, respect fellow citizens, and help others as I am able.
No pronouncement of “love” is required for residents to speak out against irresponsible politically-expedient governance.

Fred Wilms August 5, 2019 at 8:02 am

David,

Where in northern Illinois are you from? I ask because I also grew up in rural northern Illinois. I went to high school in Antioch.

David Heuvelman August 5, 2019 at 10:18 am

Fred,

I know Antioch well. I grew up in Richmond. I fished the Fox River and Nippersink. Went to High School in Woodstock, Il.

Colin Hosten August 5, 2019 at 11:01 am

Well said, David! Lots of agreement from this fellow transplant who is also proud to call Norwalk home.

Bryan Meek August 6, 2019 at 7:13 am

Here’s some history you might want to know. In 2001 the city had ~ 300 children classified as SPED. Today it is north of 1700 and climbing fast thanks to unfunded state laws and mandates.

Around 2011 Norwalk was struggling mightily with this unfunded growth as SPED students can cost several multiples of what it cost to educate typical students. On top of this, Norwalk as a city has seen significant growth in its overall student population. A formula for budgetary disaster.

Instead, many of the issues in SPED were shortchanged or ignored by various SPED administrators. One in particular told the board of education that audit issues were being addressed when in fact they were not. This administrator left for another district and upon their exit over a million worth of unpaid invoices that bypassed the purchasing process were discovered, causing a financial crisis that forced the board to draw on reserves for health insurance to a level that put us at actuarial risk for further disaster.

The board seeing this was unsustainable lobbied the city hard and came up with a “surge” plan to fix the issues. $3.6 million was invested in SPED and is showing dividends over the last three years of implementation. The state recognized this along with some remaining deficiencies that are being addressed now.

Unfortunately, as we were in process of gathering our senses after we were blindsided by the illegal purchasing of outside services that we were never told about until this administrator left, several of us were very upset and had conversations about it on our private email accounts. Unlike opening someone’s US mail, which is a felony, you can “legally” data mine someone’s private email without their permission and report it to the world.

This caused a lawsuit to be filed. The lawsuit was frivolous and the school board was on its way to victory having had 2 of the counts thrown out, but the volume of discovery and red tape was making it cost prohibitive to pursue it. Instead the board decided to save 1/4 million and settle the suit. The settlement came in at less than 5% of what some of these cases settle for, which is a clear indication the plaintiff knew they had no chance. It’s an unfortunate set of laws on our books that allows for this to happen and it’s happening all the time in every town and city across the state.

That’s the brief lesson in history.

Now to my point. You are out there on Facebook, castigating the school board for it’s lawsuit mentioned above.

Are you aware of the facts surrounding it? What do you have to say about the 400 plus other lawsuits the city faces? These (assuming you know the role of a councilman) will be up to you to decide.

What would you have done in the case mentioned above? This case is less than 1% of the city’s potential liability in law suits, what would your general approach be on the others that stand to cost the city significant multiples of this one through our own fault or sometimes at no fault of our own.

Clearly your facebook posts indicate you have no tolerance for the board members who thought they were having private conversations, demanding one leave.

For the person(s) responsible for letting $900k walk out of city hall (6x what the lawsuit above cost), what would you do as councilman? Would you demand resignations from staff?

Thanks for adding to your platform here, if you care to.

Rem August 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm

David,

I’m going to answer your question as to why the “I lived here for X number of years” is so critical to the Connecticut psyche with a personal example.

Earlier this summer I was waiting at the stop light to take a left turn onto Route 123 from Nursery Street. I navigated my car as I usually did to the left side of that one lane bidirectional road to allow motorists to pass on the right to take a right turn. Parked my car almost on top of the double yellow line. Because that’s what we do in Connecticut, try to be nice to others, right? Well, so this motorist driving a white Toyota Scion who clearly had room to turn right stopped his car within my sight line and motioned for me to lower my passenger side window. I looked at him, noticed he was an older gentleman with gray-white hair and I thought to myself, “Oh, he must be lost and needs directions!” Ok, so I lower the window. Then, he says,

“Let me tell you something, see that traffic light? There’s two lights – that means it’s a two lane road. If you could just move your car four inches to the left I’d be able to turn to the right.”

Yes, he literally said four inches and emphasized with a two handed movement. I was so shocked that someone had the audacity to say something like this to me when I was already being an accommodating motorist that I was literally shocked to silence. So I stared at him until he rolled up his window and proceeded to turn right; meanwhile I thought, “What the heck? There’s only one lane, so what that there’s two lights!? It’s not how we drive, passing on the right is a courtesy, not a right! I’ve been driving through this intersection for 20 years and I’ve never heard anything like it! … He must be out-of-state.”

And guess what?

He was from Massachusetts.

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