Remember the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. New London, in which the court approved the taking and destruction of an unoffending lower middle-class neighborhood for redevelopment that never took place? Sure you do. You may also recall that the pillar on which the court’s decision rested was planning. The city, said the court, did such a swell job on planning the redevelopment of the Fort Trumbull area of New London that the court simply had to defer to it. In fact, that turned out to be a crock. The plan was worthless; the city’s chosen redeveloper could not even get financing (and that was before the real estate bubble burst in 2008).
The subject land, all 91 acres of it, is now an empty, weed-overgrown swath of land, of interest only to birds and feral cats. On that, the city and the State of Connecticut blew at least $80,000,000 — probably a lot more.
Now The Day, the local New London newspaper brings the news that the city is going to hold a charette, whatever that is, in which the local folks are invited by a team of city and Yale Urban Design Workshop planners to partake of coffeee and cookies, and discuss various possible dvelopment schemes for that land that was taken by eminent domain by the city in 2000, and has been sitting empty and unproductive for some five years (which, by an odd coincidence, is longer than it took to fight and win Word War II). We looked up the word charette in our dictionary, which proved to be a singularly unrewarding activity – good ol’ Webster’s (at least our copy) defines charette as charette. Period. Why not call it just a plain old New England style town meeting, has not been explained. Evidently if you are going to deal with one of the greatest municipal screw-ups in modern history, it sounds better if you use a French term.
The reason for our acerbic approach to this event is that, as noted above, New London’s planning, its supposed thoroughness and quality, formed the linchpin of the Supreme Court’s decision. The court deferred to the city because of all that quality planning that was supposed to do wonders for the community. Now, six years after the event, the city is going back to the drawing board and starting all over again, this time by basing its decision-making on what the untutored local folks have to say. What happened to all that fancy “planning”?
So it all boils down to municipal babble — first it’s the city planners’ skill that’s supposed to carry the day, but now it’s whatever the local folks come up with. And by the way, if you want a sampling of the latter, go to the public comments to that The Day article. Those are pretty teed off folks who don’t think much of their municipal government, and rightly so. To get a sampling of those public comments. Go to http://www.theday.com/article/20110401/NWS01/304019923/-1/NWS It isn’t pretty.
Follow up. For a report on what happened at that charette, go to http://newlondon.patch.com/articles/charrette-at-fort-trumbull-discusses-ideas-for-redevelopment The folks were into everything from big-box stores and docking for cruise ships, to creating a historical maritime village. Etc., etc. Conspicuous by its absence in this report is the cost of these capers, the source of funding, and the availability of market demand for all that stuff.