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.