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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Paving of the Park

September 13, 2011: Well, I promised I'd post soon, but then I didn't get around to it ... But this evening I was so irritated by seeing this "thing" (as you'll see below), I motivated myself to write an op/ed piece on it, and so I end the evening with both self-worth and copy ... I'm forwarding it on to the papers, etc., but I never have faith that any of them print anything, and if they do there's a good chance they'll omit my commas ... For those of you with Westport, CT, connections, I hope you'll find it interesting and worthwhile, and for the rest, I hope you'll simply enjoy the opportunity to bask in my lovingly crafted work ...

The Paving of the Park


Doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd—-or disturbing—-how the park at the corner of Main Street and the Post Road has been quietly usurped by the businesses that lease the adjacent building?

For the past several months the latest land grabbers have loudly toiled on what was once a pleasant downtown park, with plants and shrubs and wooden benches that had back support. Now, the designers have basically clear-cut the place and left a spread of cement that looks more like a parking lot than anything resembling the open space its supposed to be.

Once upon a time, this was the library park, for the Westport Library occupied the adjacent brick building all the way back to the river. The park was tiny, if not elaborate. It felt set back from the busy road by some pleasantly untended plantings, and was slightly elevated behind a small rustic brick wall in the same style as that running along the library building. The back of the park was a bit of a mishmash of ivy and shrubs, but really it was kind of nice to see a small, uncontrolled speckle of wild open space left in the center of the commercial district—a romantic remnant of a time when we weren’t as afraid of dirt and chemical-free lawns as we seem to be now.

When the library moved in the mid-1980s, a restaurant—it was called Café Christina, if memory serves—took over the better part of the building. Through what was (in my opinion) an entirely despicable zoning variance, they were allowed to construct an enormous cement patio over half that park. Worse, Café Christina—and the clods in Westport’s government who okayed the work—sidestepped reasonable practice by putting up a small, rarely noticed plaque on the right side of the building, which gave notice that this patio was “dedicated open space” and that the public was (still) allowed its use. (I believe the plaque is still there, though it feels like you’d need a microscope to see it.)

Years later, a retail store followed, and the patio became an enormous ramp and staircase. By then they’d also taken away the comfortable wooden-backed benches, like the ones we luckily still have on the river, replacing them with those awful cold stone pews that discourage sitting.

Now, in its most recent and grossest incarnation, this poor “park” has literally become a cement-covered monstrosity, embarrassed by enough concrete to facilitate six new parking spaces. In fact, I’m absolutely surprised these greed-head builders left that magnificent sycamore tree still standing in the middle, for it can’t possibly be profitable to them to have it there. (Fortunately, it’s been rigidly confined within a very small square of dirt, so it doesn’t get any funny ideas!)

Part of being a Westport native involves the recurring digestion of head-slapping zoning decisions, the acceptance of grotesque, mammoth (and tacky) new constructions, and the sad, sometimes senseless destruction of places and properties that offer the most subtle of additions to our town—aesthetics, untended greenery, history, etc. It’s such a constant disappointment to see the pattern unfold again and again, and the sensible citizen merely goes numb and tries to keep their attention centered on the positives, like the Westport Pizzeria, the wooden-backed benches by the river, and the outstanding beauty of the old Y building.

But what a shame it is—-at least for me—-to see this lovely little spot, so centrally located, get stomped out of existence, or at best crushed into an awkward submission to bad taste, overkill, and zoning chicanery. I really, really wish Westport would think these things through.

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  1. Oh, now, you see, I find this infuriating and depressing in equal measures; it makes me heartsick the way the bits of Westport that made it charming and attractive to people to want to move to it are being systematically torn down or paved over, all in the name of Mammon. All those colonial houses, all slightly askew with age, torn down and turned into those big eff-off McMansions. Orwell, I believe, - from memory, so please bear with me - described the future as a jackboot stomping on a human face (he was writing in different times) whereas I see, today, the future as a giant credit card that is The Market, slapped down from on high, like a giant trump card that mows down everything that is human and gentle and lovely. Because, you know: a little quiet, untended wild space in the middle of Westport has to be made to Pay Its Way. If I weren't so far away, I'd stage a sit in. I have very fond memories of that little place; you were part of them.

  2. PS Great piece, by the way. But the bit about it being public access, taken over by the present lease-holder...really kick up a huge fuss about that. Next thing you know, it'll be 'grandfathered' in that they bloody own it or something.