Have you ever wondered how different downtown Norwich looked like 50 years ago or wondered what would have happened if the downtown area would have stayed the same? Did you know that downtown Norwich used to have many more properties and businesses along present day Chelsea Harbor Drive and Howard T. Brown Memorial Park? This area has the potential to create many jobs, to provide a pleasant experience to Norwich’s residents and to those who are visiting, and also benefit the City of Norwich tremendously. There were building units that spanned from the bridge that takes us into downtown to Market Street and many of these units were built over present day Chelsea Harbor Drive. There was also a rail line that went over where part of the Marina is today. These elements are part of the life that downtown Norwich had back in time. It is a fact that Norwich has missed out on the opportunities that come with all of these units that could have provided benefits for its residents, those that are visiting and the City of Norwich as a whole. There has been lost opportunities to provide jobs, recreation, and business and revenue for Norwich with these units.
Currently, the waterfront area of Norwich along Route 2 has many qualities that can be improved upon. One issue that the waterfront area has is that it contains what are known as “stroads.” Route 2 in downtown Norwich is by definition a “stroad” and what is meant by this is that it is a street and road into one and in doing so creates a terrible combination. A road basically is a connecting point between two locations which yields faster driving conditions. A Street has a more personal feel to it, for example, a street would have a café, Laundromat, public space, and walkable area. What downtown Route 2 has become is that it has some places to eat, some walkable areas, but it also is on a road that is built for higher speeds built to pass through. This combination can create a dangerous and unattractive environment for a pedestrian. One example of a downtown that sees plenty of traffic but has managed to implement a walkable street area is downtown Mystic on Route 1. To compare traffic numbers; Route 1 in Mystic gets about 11,800 motorists per day while Chelsea Harbor Drive gets 11,800 and Water Street gets 7,100 totaling 18,900 motorists for Route 2 in Norwich. This means that Mystic’s two way street in their downtown area sees about the same as Norwich’s Route 2 traffic if broken down by Chelsea Harbor Drive and Water Street separately. What this also tells us is that there is no reason why we couldn’t turn Route 2 into a more pedestrian friendly environment. To bring back Water Street and Chelsea Harbor Drive’s sense of place, we could add “complete streets” which are streets that have sidewalks for pedestrians, bicycle lanes for bike riders along with multiple areas to park the bicycles. These streets would also provide ease of access for public transportation as well. These types of streets enable all types of people of all ages and abilities to access it without any difficult challenges. With these parts that make up a “complete street” there would be a big reduction in automobile traffic which in turn makes this area safer and more eco-friendly with more real alternatives to move about the city. With this new design, many people will get to experience Norwich’s waterfront area more conveniently.
It is understandable that today, we cannot rebuild all of the units that had existed prior, but it is possible to make use of the parking garages, highways, and open space that we currently have and in doing so, give Norwich more of a sense of place. There could be more residential units along with novelty shops, restaurants and office space for businesses. If we could develop some of the space that is not used today, we can bring more revenue to Norwich.
Two elements would be included in this proposal. One would be bringing back much of the space that was once used and adding businesses and residential units to those areas. Another would be that once some of these units are revived, we can incorporate modern urban practices to promote a more walkable and environmentally sustainable environment. Now with these two aspects included into the new design of the waterfront area, pedestrians can have ease of access to the shops, businesses, restaurants and residential areas without worrying about traffic flowing through with high speeds. With the incorporation of these two elements, this part of Norwich will be a wonderful place to visit, possibly enhance the nightlife, and make Norwich more profitable.