Saturday, August 16, 2008

The end of the printed phone book?

Unwanted phone books
I've been seeing these orange plastic bags of phone books around town since last week. They certainly do appear to be unwanted, and they're going straight to the recycling bin in many homes and businesses. I wonder how many trees had to be sacrificed to produce this latest unwanted batch.

Is this the beginning of the end of unsolicited printed phone books? I sure hope so.

These are some of my favorite on-line directories.

What are some of yours?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Parade 2008

Ever since I went digital, I've been taking the shotgun approach to events like this. There are nearly 300 photos in this set (once I finish uploading them all), so if and when you get tired of watching the slideshow, you can just click through to MainStreetDanbury's Flickr account.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Opening Night at the 2008 CT Film Festival

Director Rocco DeVilliers's film "The Flyboys" was shown to a very happy, very excited, and very full house last night at the Palace Theater, at the opening night of the CT Film Festival. There are five more days of this extraordinary event still to come, with venues all over downtown Danbury: The Palace, the Library, the WCSU Student Center Theater, Heirloom Arts Theater (formerly the Empress Ballroom), WCSU Ives Concert Hall, and All Nations Baptist Church. There are feature films, documentaries, student shorts, international shorts, American shorts, animated shorts, and Connecticut shorts. Several films will be repeated, and if you weren't at last night's screening, you have another chance to see "The Flyboys" on Saturday at 2 pm at WestConn's Ives Concert Hall on White Street. Don't miss it!

These are some photographs I took last night. The blurry ones were taken using available darkness. (Some photographers refer to this as "available light," but I like to call it what it is.) You'll find more coverage at the News-Times website, and Eugene Driscoll's new blog, Hollywood Chainsaw Blogger, created especially to cover the CT Film Festival. And, of course, at the CT Film Festival website itself. Individual tickets and festival passes can still be purchased at the CityCenter Danbury offices at 186 Main Street, at the corner of Main and West.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

288 Main Street

William Webb Sunderland was a prominent local builder who, along with his son Philip, constructed Mark Twain's home "Stormfield" in Redding. In 1873, Sunderland built the the first structure to house a Danbury newspaper. The building was remodeled and expanded in 1893 and the distinctive clock tower—which unfortunately is obscured by the tree in this photo—was added. Philip Sunderland's son William Webb, named for his grandfather, designed the current News-Times building at 333 Main Street. Today the building at 288 Main Street is the home of DaSilva Real Estate. [1]

288 Main StreetI don't doubt that the newer building is more functional, but esthetically I much prefer the 1893 building, don't you? Here's a closer view of the Main Street entrance.

[1] Danbury Museum and Historical Society, Images of America: Danbury. Charleston (SC): Arcadia Publishing. 2001.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

...and leave the driving to us!

Today's News-Times online edition has good news for everyone who commutes between Danbury and Waterbury. Three buses during peak commuting hours could potentially take 120 cars off the road. That hardly puts a dent in the 7,000 cars that make the trip each day, but it's a start. And it's better than doing nothing.

HART expansion proposal would expand bus service to Waterbury
By Mike Russo Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/20/2008 09:38:52 AM EDT

NEWTOWN - The bus stops here, or at least it could.

Two proposed expansions of Housatonic Area Regional Transit, which now operates 14 routes, could add bus service here as early as September and help commuters who would rather ride than drive.

More than 7,000 vehicles travel on Interstate 84 from Danbury and Waterbury each day, according to Richard Shreiner, director of service development at HART. An estimated 900 vehicles travel between Newtown and Danbury alone.

"It is one of the most congested corridors in the state," he said.

Shreiner said there are currently 20 Newtown businesses with employees who commute from the Danbury and Waterbury areas.

Shreiner presented an overview of a December 2007 feasibility study and potential bus routes through Newtown to the Board of Selectmen on Monday night.

Proposed plans for the Danbury to Waterbury line suggest a Newtown bus terminal located off Exit 10. The bus would make three round trips during peak traveling hours in the morning and the evening.

"Bus service during the peak period would allow more options," he said.

Friday, March 14, 2008

265 Main Street

The Main Street post office opened for business on September 2, 1916. The city's four wards met at a point in the middle of the street directly in front of the post office, so it literally was at the center of town.

This week the News-Times reported that the USPS is considering whether to close the downtown post office. This doesn't really come as a surprise, since all mail processing operations were moved to the Backus Avenue facility over a year ago. The Main Street location now serves mostly as a retail facility, selling stamps, accepting packages and letters, and providing over 800 post office boxes. It still serves a useful function, say business owners and residents of the downtown area, who would incur the added expense of driving to the Backus Avenue branch. The possibility of opening a new, smaller facility at an alternate location, still convenient to downtown, has not been ruled out, but the 92-year-old building on Main Street probably won't figure into those plans unless we give the USPS a reason to include it. There's no reason that the newer, smaller facility couldn't be included in a plan for renovating the building for multiple uses. A New England town without a downtown post office is not really a town.

Several people are already putting forth ideas for new uses for the building, which would require extensive interior renovations in any case. I think this might be just the opportunity we've been waiting for to begin a revitalization project similar to Norwalk's efforts in its SoNo district. The building is centrally located, within walking distance of both the HART pulse point and the Metro-North train station. We need a coalition of citizens to start making plans, and if things don't work out with this particular building, then they can also begin looking at other possibilities near the downtown center. Whatever we do, please let's not allow the building to get snapped up by the usual developers who will put it to the usual uses. The last thing downtown Danbury needs is another dormitory.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Metro-North Railroad Celebrates 25 Years

In 1852, when the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad started operation, a one-way trip on the 23.6 mile line took 75 minutes using two Hinkley Steam Engines named "The Danbury" and "The Norwalk." The route was electrified in 1925 and de-electrified in 1961. We've been talking about re-electrifying it for as long as I can remember. You can read the March 2006 Electrification Feasibility Study here in a 2.5MB PDF, and you can get an overview here at the Danbury Branch Electrification Feasibility Study website.

Over the decades, the operation of the line changed hands several times, and you can read more about the history of the Danbury Branch Rail Line here at the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials website.

In 1983, Metro-North Commuter Railroad was formed, and Connecticut's Department of Transportation became the owner of the Danbury-Norwalk Branch Line in 1985, with Metro-North operating the passenger service. In 2007, Metro-North ridership exceeded 80 million passengers, setting a new record. Many of those commuters are on the ten round trips per day between Danbury and Norwalk, and probably at least as many, if not more, drive from the Greater Danbury area to use Metro-North stations in Croton Falls, Katonah, Brewster, and Southeast.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am a fan of both public transportation and architecture, especially Art Deco. So of course I must also mention that Grand Central Terminal was showing the signs of years of neglect when, in 1988, Metro-North began a $200 million modernization, preservation, and redevelopment program. The building was restored, new retail and dining spaces were added, tracks were updated, and the utility systems were modernized. The Kodak photo marquee was removed to reveal more windows, and the ceiling was cleaned to reveal the constellations. Free tours of Grand Central are offered every Wednesday and Friday, and you can read more about them here at the Grand Central Terminal website.

To celebrate its 25th year of operation, Metro-North Railroad and the New York Transit Museum are presenting an exhibition entitled, "A Railroad Reborn: Metro-North at 25." This free exhibit is located in the New York Transit Museum's Gallery Annex next to the Station Master's office in Grand Central Terminal, and it will be open to the public through July 6, 2008. On Saturday, April 5th, the Transit Museum and MTA Arts for Transit will team up with Metro-North to present a unique tour of artwork at Grand Central Terminal and select stations along the Hudson Line. Arts for Transit staff will be joined by artists who will talk about art and design in transit facilities and discuss details of the transit art projects inspired by each community. You can find more details and learn more about the New York Transit Museum, located in Brooklyn Heights, and its Gallery Annex at Grand Central Station, here at the Museum's webpage.

Photo by David Iliff, for WikiMedia. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Click here to see a larger image of the photo, and click here to see more awesome photos by David Iliff. Many thanks to Roxanne Robertson, Director for Special Projects for the New York Transit Museum, for bringing the 25th anniversary of Metro-North and the exhibit to my attention.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Urban living is making a comeback

In an article for the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly provocatively titled "The Next Slum?", Christopher B. Leinberger asserts that the subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life, he writes, may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.

"For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay."

The suburbs that he writes about are relatively new developments in the South, MidWest, and West, far from any commercial centers or public transportation. The urban centers that Leinberger mentions are places like White Plains, where a luxury condo sells for $750 per square foot, compared to a luxury single family home in suburban Westchester, which can sell for $375 per square foot. The Greater Danbury region doesn't quite fit either profile, although I recall reading last year that the newest development on the NY state line features homes that sell for over $1 million. But developers are also starting to find ways to bring the city to the suburbs, and provide an alternative to conventional, car-based suburban life. "Lifestyle centers"—walkable developments that create an urban feel with narrow streets, storefronts that come to the sidewalk, and a mix of residential and commercial use, are becoming popular with some builders. In other words, they are trying to recreate the experience of living in a small New England town. Danbury never quite lost that feel, although it was touch-and-go there for a while in the 80s after the Mall was built.

So here we are on the cutting edge of the latest trend. There are already signs, with the new downtown parking garage and the restoration of 238 Main Street, which, by the way, is now accepting applications for the new apartments being created on the upper floors. There is the truly awesome news that the Palace Theatre will be partly re-opened for this year's film festival (and perhaps beyond?). I was not able to attend First Night this year, but I've seen the photos of the interior of the Palace lobby, and all the art deco trim and light fixtures that I remembered are still there. The Warner Theatre in Torrington will have nothing on us once the Palace reopens.

And I think there's still hope for that big empty parking lot that was once the site of the first Danbury Mall, and which is within walking distance of the Metro North train station and the HART pulse point. Leinberger writes that "housing at Belmar, the new "downtown" in Lakewood, Colorado, a middle-income inner suburb of Denver, commands a 60 percent premium per square foot over the single-family homes in the neighborhoods around it. The development covers about 20 small blocks in all. What’s most noteworthy is its history: it was built on the site of a razed mall."

Friday, February 08, 2008

What's the opposite of "smart growth"?

Think you're seeing a lot of these now? You'll be seeing even more of them this year.

On Wednesday night the Danbury Common Council voted 19-2 to allow the Danbury Police Department to be trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to "handle" undocumented immigrants. The exact details of the deal are not known at this time. The Council voted on the proposal with nothing in writing, as I understand it, so we don't really know just yet exactly what we have committed to do.

I'll be the first to admit that Danbury has problems. But undocumented immigrant workers are just a symptom, not a cause. If we had put the brakes on runaway growth 20 years ago, we wouldn't be where we are today. If we hadn't built the mall, which nearly destroyed the downtown, if we didn't allow developers to build on spec, if we had put the brakes on the McMansions and the condos, if we had supported local farmers instead of forcing them to sell to developers, if we had refused to widen the roads or add any new ones... then Danbury might still be a small town where everyone knows each other. The old stores—Howland's, the shoe store Markoff's (took me a few hours to remember the name), Woolworth's...—they might still be around. It might be a little boring, but it would be stable. Maybe the kids wouldn't stay here after high school, but I'm not sure they do now anyway.

But stablity doesn't buy a second house on the Cape. Stability doesn't buy that sports car. Stability doesn't put gas in the SUV. And stability doesn't make anyone a millionaire. No, there must be constant—or even accelerating—growth, sort of like a shark. And so that's where we are.

So what does this have to do with immigrant workers and cheap labor? Just who did we think was going to fill the vacuum created downtown by the Mall? Did we think that Danbury would just quietly roll up the streets and die? Well, it came pretty close. There are still a couple of office buildings that have never been fully occupied, having been built at just the wrong time, but are inexplicably still standing. Who did we think was going to maintain the landscapes for all the new developments? And who was going to clean all the new McMansions? Who did we think was going to shop at Wal*Mart? Have you ever walked around downtown New Canaan, Ridgefield, or Redding? Can you even find Redding Center? Can you imagine any of those towns letting developers put condos anywhere there is a sliver of land? Of course not. But Danbury does.

Without cheap immigrant labor, who's going to clean those condos and maintain those yards and build those stone walls? Are we going to bus in unemployed workers from NYC... having first checked their identity papers, of course? Or are we going to stop, take a deep breath, and look at where we are and how we got here?

That's the picture as I see at the local level. At the national level, Jim Hightower has said it better than I ever could, in this article titled "Immigrants Come Here Because Globalization Took Their Jobs Back There."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

No Impact Man On Community and Smart Growth

No Impact Man and his family just completed a year-long experiment in minimizing their impact on the environment. They shut off the electricity, walked or rode a bicycle everywhere, and ate only food that was grown or raised within 100 miles of their home in New York City. In the course of the year, they rediscovered community, which is something that those of us who spend an hour or more in our cars each day may have thought had been lost forever. One of No Impact Man's messages is that community hasn't been lost, it's just been misplaced. In yesterday's post, he talks about community, and how it relates to "smart growth."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

226 Main Street

Union Savings Bank moved into this building, designed by the New York City firm of Berg & Clark, on Tuesday, March 29, 1887, after the first floor was completed. You can read more about the history of Union Savings Bank here.

"Intuition is not raw feeling. When you turn design over to intuition, you imbue the design with a system of proportions. Proportion, how one shape relates to another, is at the center of the old way of seeing. Mastery of proportion demonstrates a kind of judgment that goes far beyond what your "practical" side knows how to do. In a sense, using intuition is far more practical than any other method of design. Intellect calculates effect, intuition organizes shapes. Effect has its place; function has its place; keeping the rain out has its place. But we are too good at keeping the rain out; it is almost the only thing we do. The goal of design is not to find the correct proportions; the goal is to express life. It is not necessary, it can be counterproductive, to try to be lively, interesting, mysterious. To make a building that comes alive, it is, above all, necessary to play among the patterns.


"When we visit the old towns, when we go into an ancient cathedral, when we see a masterpiece by a twentieth-century architect, we notice something most of our buildings lack. As we look at these places we know something is absent from the everyday buildings of our time—the suburban house, the office building, the mall. And we accept this lack. We may complain about it, but in the end, we don't expect our buildings to have that spark we see in the buildings of the past. Theorists tell us we should accept the "Ugly and Ordinary" building. We assume there must be an unbridgeable gap between what our age builds and what was once produced with a light touch, as a matter of course. But there were once, and there can be again, interesting, even magical, ordinary buildings."

Jonathan Hale, The Old Way Of Seeing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2008

"There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war."

Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 1967, at Manhattan’s Riverside Church. Click here for the full text and a portion of the audio of the speech.

NOTE: I have replaced the original image with one that I found at the Images of 20th Century African American Activists page at the Library of Congress website. These images are all believed to be in the public domain unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Myers Briggs in 5 Minutes

It's still intersession at school, and instead of all the web programming projects I had lined up, I've been learning the ins and outs of selling on eBay and Amazon in an effort to make ends meet for this one last year of graduate school. (Seller name firstgentrekkie on both, if you're interested.) So I haven't been out taking pictures lately, although I did snap a few photos of Monday morning's snowfall. It almost looks like I had the camera in B&W mode, doesn't it?

I learned about this website from librarian blogger Helene Blowers at LibraryBytes. I took the full-blown Myers Briggs test about 20 or 25 years ago, and as I recall I was much more centered then. It seems that age has made me more introverted, more perceptive, and less judgmental. I'm still pegged as an engineering type, though. I guess some personality aspects are immutable.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Commuting in Connecticut

I remember how exciting it was to get my driver's license and my first car. I was 21 and had just moved to Connecticut after graduating from college. I had lived in New York City for four years and Dallas, TX before that, both of which have pretty good public transportation, and I had never before needed a car. It took many years for the novelty to wear off, but wear off it did, and I think it was primarily due to the interminable hours of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-84. The OPEC oil embargo of 1972 was my first clue that there might be something fundamentally unsustainable about the car culture I found myself in.

I'm sure I could come up with some ballpark estimates of just how many hours/days/months of my life I have spent in a car idling on I-84, but it would be too depressing, so I won't do it. I don't care what anyone says, no one enjoys driving to and from work. Anyone who thinks you do enjoy it, just give it 20 or 30 years and then get back to me.

Tell the truth now. Would you rather get to work after being in a traffic jam like that photo of I-95 above, or would you rather commute to work in a modern Japanese bullet train like this one?

It's probably too late for us to build a world-class rail system anywhere near as modern as anything in Japan or Europe—we've sunk our resources into the highway system as if we believed that gasoline would always be 36 cents a gallon, as it was in 1972, just before the embargo. (That's about $1.36 in today's currency, according to The Cato Institute.) But the existing Shoreline, Metro North, and Amtrak rail systems are pretty good. We could improve what we have, and we just might be able to restore some of what we used to have, such as rail service between Danbury, Waterbury, and Hartford.

Or not. It's a choice.

Friday, December 14, 2007

247-249 Main Street

247-249 Main StreetWhen I came to Danbury, this was the "five-and-ten-cent store"—Woolworth's, to be exact. You can still see the evidence inlaid at the entrance. Today it's the Danbury Dollar & Gift store. Inflation will do that. A portion of the south side of the original store has been split off into a Chinese take-out restaurant.

Just as today we criticize the big-box stores for driving out locally owned and operated businesses, the same accusations were directed at Woolworth's and other five-and-dime's in their hey-day. By Woolworth’s 100th anniversary in 1979, it had become the largest department store chain in the world. (

I came to Woolworth's to buy everything except food and clothes. You name it, and they had it: makeup and hair supplies, pet supplies (and small pets, like parakeets), yard supplies, clotheslines and clothespins, kitchen equipment, and party goods. It was a dozen stores rolled into one. The selection was somewhat limited compared to what we in the U.S. expect today, but... y'know what? ...sometimes you don't need a big selection. Sometimes you just need to get in, get what you need, and get out. The beauty of shopping downtown is being able to park 10 feet from the front door—closer even than most of the handicap spots at the mall.

Friday, December 07, 2007

129 Main Street

This building was starting to show some signs of neglect even back in 1985, when it was still Sears, Roebuck & Co. Then the mall came and dealt it the final blow. But it still stands, now housing the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and I've always loved the glass block wall on the second floor. I wonder if this building was originally Sears, or if it was built to house some other business first?

Update on my revaluation: I had my interview with the representative from VAT on Wednesday. Other than the topography of my lot and the amount of traffic on the street, they had their facts right. Now I wait to see if the numbers change. Meanwhile, all you developers out there, I have the perfect location for your next 50-unit condo project!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Danbury revaluation!?

I never meant for this blog to be political--I have other outlets for that--but I just received the 5-year revaluation for my house. It's 50% higher than it was just 5 years ago. WTF? Real estate prices are dropping and inventory grows every week. When I thought about selling two years ago, no agent would even look at my house, which is over 50 years old and less than 800 square feet of living space.

This must be some bizarre plan by Boughton and the developers who really run Danbury to kick people out of their homes. "My" land is now worth more than "my" house. If a developer came along today and wanted my block to build a 50 unit condo complex, I'd have to give it some serious thought. But 50%?! As you know if you've been reading this blog from the start, I am a graduate student and work part time in a library. My salary is a quarter of what it was 2 years ago. All economic indicators point to a coming recession--if we aren't already in one. If I thought for one moment that I could actually get someone to pay the amount that Vision Appraisal Technology has assessed for my house, I'd sell in a heartbeat. But there is no such buyer, and I think everyone knows that.

I'm going to make an appointment for a hearing. I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. I'm hoping that someone will be able to point us all to some reliable data showing actual trends for the last 5 years, up to and including October 1, 2007. I know about, and I suspect that's what Vision Appraisal is using, too--I don't believe that Zillow accounts for the age or total size of the house. I think it just looks at price per square foot.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

17 Main Street

Lots of activity going on here at the former home of a furniture consignment shop, in the shadow of the Kimberly Place high-rise next door. The whole exterior of the building, including several residential units behind and above the store, is getting a facelift. This is what we like to see!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

104 Main Street

My little camera cannot do justice to this magnificent building, which houses the Rectory and Offices for St. Peter Roman Catholic Church across the street on the other side of Elmwood Park. The church's website refers to it as "Danbury's mother Catholic Church since 1851," but there doesn't seem to be any parish history information. This was the best I could find, but there's nothing here specific to Danbury. Can anyone help me out?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

111-113 Main Street

Home of the Greenery Cafe and Shop 111, this is another of those "lonely" buildings that must surely have had similar three-story brick neighbors a few decades ago. We can count ourselves fortunate that so many of them did escape the wrecking ball. And the third floor even appears occupied.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

141 Main Street

The Casa Nova Churrascaria. Churrascaria is a style of Brazilian cooking and serving meat that has been grilled on a skewer. Low-carb heaven! You can read more about it here at Wikipedia.

Before its present incarnation, this was for many years the home of the Brass Jail. I'll bet there are a lot of Danburians and WestConn alumni who have a few stories about the Brass Jail.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's Your Walkability Index?

Tom Condon writes about West Hartford Center, Blue Back Square, and the value of walkability in the September 30th Hartford Courant.

We need an alternative to endless oil wars in the Middle East and relentless burning of fossil fuels. We need to live more compactly. The trick is to get the benefits of more urban living without the traditional detriments - inadequate stores, poorly maintained buildings, unkempt public spaces, etc. If walkability is seen as a benefit, perhaps town or neighborhood centers will be designed for people instead of cars.

"Designed for people instead of cars." What a concept!

Use the widget in the left sidebar to find your walkability index.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

238 Main Street, reborn!

Main Street - Danbury Gas & Electric 2.0I noticed this for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn't until today that I had a chance to stop and take a closer look. The Danbury Gas & Electric Co. building is getting a makeover! Scaffolding is up—something you don't often see on Main Street— and those are all new windows. Does anyone know what the plans are for it—will it be offices, residential, or both? If there are going to be apartments, I'd like to know. And if there will be, I hope they don't get rented exclusively to WestConn students. I have nothing against students—I'm a student myself—but as a taxpayer and former potential future resident, I'm still a bit vexed at the way the Crosby Street project was handled. I want to see a more permanent residential presence downtown, not more transient student housing.

Here's what 238 Main Street looked like a year ago. I wonder if the art deco "Gas & Electric" signage will be retained.

256 Main Street - The new parking garageI wonder if the restoration was prompted by the nearby presence of the new parking garage, which looks like it's almost finished. I won't say it enhances the neighborhood, but it's not bad looking as parking garages go. And at least it's not right on Main Street. I still question the value of imposing a minimum number of parking spaces per residential unit anywhere, but especially in the downtown historical district. I think that people who live near decent bus and train service can manage very well with just one car, or even no cars. But maybe that's just me—I grew up in a city where I could get anywhere by bus, and went to college in a city where I could get anywhere by subway. I didn't have to learn to drive until I moved to Danbury. And I look forward to the day when I have my degree, so I can get a full time job in a library, so I can move where I'm close enough to walk to work, or at least take a bus.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ives Concert Park, Family Fair Day

The Ives Concert Park is another one of Danbury's best kept secrets. Why it hasn't yet become the Tanglewood of northern Fairfield County is beyond me.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The previous post on Elmwood Park drew the attention of Dennis Elpern, the Director of Danbury's Planning and Zoning Department. Mr. Elpern and I spoke on the phone a few weeks ago, and he gave me some background information on the restoration project.

Mr. Elpern, who came to Danbury in 1988, used to drive past the park on his way to and from City Hall each day. He couldn't help but notice the crumbling sidewalks and overall unkempt look of the park, and out of professional curiosity went to the Danbury Museum & Historical Society (formerly known as the Scott-Fanton Museum) and did some research. He learned that the Commons, which is what Elmwood Park was, has probably been there since the Revolution, when the intersection of Main Street and South Street marked the southern boundary of Danbury. There was a Meeting House associated with the cemetery which is behind what is now the Old Jail at the corner of Main and Wooster Street. There was a bandshell, and it seems reasonable to assume that George Ives, father of Charles Ives, performed there on many a summer evening with the band that he directed.

The militia used to drill in Elmwood Park, and folks would gather there to hear election results in the fall. The Park was named for the large elm trees that dominated it and Main Street. At some point it was renamed Fountain Park, possibly because of the devastation caused by Dutch Elm disease in the early 1900s. The old photos also show a fountain and a fence.

The fountain and the fence were the starting points for the restoration work that was completed in 1998. The city hired the Danbury landscape architectural firm of Jane Didona to replicate the old fountain and the fence in an informal, English garden type of setting, for a total budget of about $250,000. Didona is also responsible for the design of the new library plaza, Kennedy Park, the Children's Garden at Tarrywile Park, a streetscape enhancement and traffic plan for the Gilbert & Bennett Wire Mill Redvelopment project now underway in Georgetown, and numerous other local and regional projects.

(I don't have a good photo of the fountain. I borrowed this one from the website of Didona Associates. I hope they don't mind.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Elmwood Park

Welcome to all of you who found me from ctblogger's kind mention in Hat City Blog. If you're concerned about local politics, land use policies, open government, and civil discourse, check out Hat City Blog.

This post is an experiment in customizing Google Maps with personal photos. I really wanted to use MapLib to create my own map that could then be embedded as a live image in the blog, but I'm having a little trouble figuring out just how to do that. The interface for "creating a map" is identical to Google's–in fact it is Google Maps–but when I save it and then go back to view my map, it's not there.

So, in the meantime, here is a link to a little map that I made in Google Maps, with a few photos taken at Elmwood Park. Click on the blue markers to see the photos.

Elmwood Park

The median strip that divides much of Main Street widens between Boughton Street and Elmwood Place, roughly centered around St. Peter Church. Today this is known as Elmwood ParkElmwood Park, but back in the old days it was the Danbury Town Green. Today it's divided into two by Wooster Street, but I wonder if it didn't used to be one continuous strip of green, maybe with a bandstand where Wooster Street now divides it? The 9/11 memorial is located on the smaller strip, between the Fairfield County Courthouse on the east, and the Old Jail/Senior Center on the west. The larger strip has the fountain, and more shady seating, paths, and plantings. It's our own little oasis.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Home-Front Ecology

Home-Front Ecology: What Our Grandparents Can Teach Us About Saving the World

"The World War II home front was the most important and broadly participatory green experiment in U.S. history. Is it a model we should use today?"

Saturday, June 30, 2007

CT ranks 7th in most congested highways

Gee, it seems as if no one knows quite how it happened, and no one knows what we can do about it. We build, we widen, and still there's traffic congestion. A dedicated bus lane on I-95 is deemed "impractical." New cars on order for Metro-North will barely replace aging cars that will be taken out of service. Bus service between New Britain and Hartford? Forget it! [And bus service between Danbury and Waterbury? Not a chance!]

What to do? What to do? Oh, of course! Build more highways!

[Link to story at,]

Study says state's traffic getting worse
By Rob Varnon
Another study found Connecticut's traffic is getting worse, but offered no concrete solutions to address the problem.

The California-based Reason Foundation published its annual report on state highways Thursday and, to almost no one's surprise, found Connecticut commuters drive the seventh most congested urban interstates in the country.

This is the foundation's 16th year of studying the condition and maintenance of roads. Connecticut's overall ranking inched up one spot from 40th to 39th -- due in part to Connecticut having the second fewest fatalities on roads during 2005, the year upon which the foundation based its study.

"If a kid consistently brings home F's and D's on his report card and suddenly gets a C, he should get a little credit," said Robert Poole Jr., the foundation's director of transportation research, on Connecticut's better ranking.

Poole said Connecticut has consistently ranked poorly because it spends a great deal of money with little to show for it, except the low fatality rate. That might also be attributable to congestion, however, as Poole said speed is a major factor in most fatalities and the states with the highest rates, like Montana, tend to be less congested with higher speed limits.

Connecticut's problems are well known to Poole, who worked at Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft in the 1960s. He said the roads were congested then and he suspects they're worse today.

"A lot of states are in the same boat," Poole said. It's a case where Americans aren't willing to take on the costs of building new routes, he said.

"America has to have a serious debate about transportation," he said.

But getting something done quickly, according to Poole and other experts, seems doubtful because people are looking for cheap solutions, which don't exist. He said it's going to cost money and people need to prepare for new taxes and tolls to cover it. However, to do nothing won't make the problem go away either, he said; in fact, it will just get more expensive.

Michelle Ernst, analyst for the New York-based Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the foundation's study mirrored results of her own. Tri-State is also a research institute focused on transportation issues in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area.

Like many studies, the foundation's doesn't address the question people are asking more and more, she said, "How do I improve my quality of life right now?"

It's well documented that I-95 and the Merritt Parkway are carrying more cars during rush hour than they were designed for and trains running on the Metro-North New Haven Line are near capacity during rush hour. Many train commuters will say the trains are over capacity now, because it's nearly impossible to get a seat into New York City during the morning rush after Westport.

The state's programs to improve transportation include buying more than 200 railcars, but the first deliveries of those won't come until 2009. While this will ultimately increase the size of the rail fleet, studies by the DOT in the late 1990s and earlier this decade, indicated those cars have been needed for several years as either replacements for ones that are failing or to match today's ridership.

Road improvements remain limited and have often dragged on for years.

Ernst said a planned express bus service between New Britain and Hartford could provide some relief, but she added the project has been in the planning stages for more than a decade.

She also said dedicating a lane to buses on I-95, a three-lane highway, probably is impractical. But, the state might be able to use congestion pricing -- in the form of a high-occupancy toll lane -- to address the problem sooner than later.

Ernst said cars carrying more than two or three people pay no fees, but those with just one are charged. Theoretically, this would encourage car sharing and reduce traffic.

Another possible solution to traffic congestion would be changing land-use patterns to encourage development around transit hubs, like bus and train stations.

Rob Varnon, who covers business for The Connecticut Post, can be reached at (203) 330-6216.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summertime Festival on the Green

The Summertime Festival on the Green opened last night with a pops concert from our own Danbury Symphony Orchestra, thanks in large part to the generosity of long-time Danbury Music Centre supporters Fred and Joan Weisman, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with many of their friends.

It's hard to imagine summer in Danbury without the Green now, but its existence came about almost by accident. I've tried to find articles from the News-Times on the subject, but they are safely hidden away in the archives, or more likely were never preserved in digital form to begin with, so I'm relying on my memory here. If any of you readers have better recall than I do—and I'm sure you do—please speak up.

As I remember it, this block was cleared many years ago with the intention of selling it to developers, but it sat unused, perhaps as long as the current site of the Terrance P. McNally Parking Garage languished in concrete and rebar disrepair. At the same time, the market for office space in downtown Danbury crashed. Then some enterprising and visionary souls conceived of and organized the summer concert series and September's Taste of Danbury on this empty and unused plot of land.

When the real estate market picked up again, and the property was to be sold for development, a loud protest rose up from the citizens of Danbury—so loud that even City Hall heard and obeyed. The space remained open, and has been improved and maintained to the beauty that you see here today, thanks to the efforts of CityCenter Danbury and the Danbury Downtown Council. The Green is framed on three sides by the aforesaid parking garage—which is really quite attractive as parking garages go—and brick buildings both old and new. Dining opportunities in the immediate vicinity include Two Steps Downtown Grille, Ciao's, and the newly opened Bella Luna.

The Summertime Festival schedule and more photos are here at the new CityCenter website. See you next Thursday for Dr. Ya Ya's Gumbo band, Friday for The Glamour Girls, or Saturday for Seeking Homer? (Speaking of gumbo, try the chicken and sausage gumbo at Two Steps Downtown Grille before the concert!)

By the way, the original Danbury Green was the median strip of Main Street that we know today as Elmwood Park. I'll have some photos of it in its full summertime blooming glory in the next week or two.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

276 Main Street

This is without a doubt one of the most attractive buildings on Main Street. Look at the cornice and the detail over each window. It has an attractive storefront that welcomes pedestrians, and the upper floors both appear to be occupied. It does look a little lonely, though. I imagine that once upon a time there might have been an entire block of buildings of similar height and utility, but over the years they were torn down in order to put up something "more modern."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Living Locally

I'm taking a class on Digital Libraries this semester, and I discovered this extraordinary video library today.


In particular, I found this video of James Howard Kunstler, whom I mentioned in an early post as one of the influences that prompted me to start this blog. In Mr. Kunstler's view,
"public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. Reengineering our cities will involve more radical change than we are prepared for, Kunstler believes, but our hand will be forced by earth crises stemming from our national lifestyle. 'Life in the mid-21st century," Kunstler says, "is going to be about living locally.'"

I urge you to watch all 20 minutes of the talk. Some of the photos he shows will remind you of similar places in and around Danbury, so while you're watching, think about the best and the worst civic features of Danbury, and what we can do to enhance the best and redesign the worst.