By Harry Rilling
Democratic mayoral candidate
NORWALK, Conn. – We Norwalkers often think of SoNo as cutting edge and unique, but neighboring towns have jumped on the revitalization bandwagon and, as one local restaurateur described to me, “They’re eating our lunch.”
The creation of SoNo was the product of a unique partnership between Norwalk’s municipal government and the SoNo community, and was actively supported by mayoral administrations for 30 years. But, according to many of SoNo’s merchants and residents, the partnership has deteriorated recently because of a lack of mayoral leadership. Crime in South Norwalk has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, but the current administration has failed to address many other obvious problems:
Merchants and property owners do a good job on their own land, but the gutters and public spaces and nooks and crannies frequently become unsightly. There is no substitute for the daily deployment of city carts, push brooms, and shovels. This would show that Norwalk cares, and it’s a policy that a mayor could implement.
There is not enough of it on-street or on-site. The Maritime Garage offers abundant cheap parking at night, but its location is obscured. Kiosks at the other lots offer a confusing array of rates that differ between lots. At 6 p.m., when folks start arriving to enjoy a relaxing night out, we offer four different rate schemes for five parking options. Enforcement is stern, and frustration from businesses and visitors is high. A reexamination and simplification of our parking regime is urgently needed.
Our businesses depend on customers who don’t live here, yet out-of-town visitors are often unsure where they are and where to go. In city planning, “wayfinding” refers to the consistent, organized use of signs and symbols that help folks navigate – and we could use some mayoral initiative in this area.
• Highly-visible logo-style signage should start at the highway exits and lead visitors straight to SoNo, with arrows to parking lots as one gets near.
• Once out of the car, footprints or other symbols painted on the sidewalk could lead visitors to notable destinations. A handout map and large neighborhood maps near parking kiosks would also help out-of-towners to better orient themselves.
• Perhaps SoNo’s biggest failing is the lack of a clear connection between the aquarium and Washington Street. It’s an unclear route that needs to be made more hospitable. A similarly unclear route exists between the train station and downtown. Better signage and markings for pedestrians, improved lighting, and other simple enhancements would help immensely.
We shouldn’t tolerate unkempt streets, out-of-town visitors wandering around SoNo unsure of where to park, and unsure of how to find our small businesses and other destinations. Let’s reinvigorate the SoNo partnership to put SoNo back on top.
Former Norwalk Police Chief
Democratic candidate for mayor