August 14, 2009

A radical idea, part 2

Down in the basement of the old Bristol Press building were a bunch of file cabinets that contained decades' worth of records from the former publisher of the paper, the legendary Bart Barnes.
When I had free time, I liked to paw through them, reading these thick files he kept on the creation of an airport where Superior Electric was later built, or the purchase of the Hoppers-Birge Pond area, or a thousand and one other topics in which Barnes played a crucial role.
He managed to be both a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker and the public face of a good many civic improvements.
Why did he do it all? Partly, of course, because a growing, thriving Bristol meant a growing, thriving Press. A community on the move takes its paper to new heights.
But Barnes was also just an old school, civic-minded man who believed strongly in leaving his community a better place than he found it. Fortunately for Bristol, he also had the tools to make a lot of his ideas happen.
There aren't any Bart Barnes' anymore, though the community is still blessed with a number of generous folks of whom Craig Yarde is just one example. They're willing to lend a hand, but they're not out there in quite the same way.
That's OK, too, because the hard work of making the city better doesn't really belong to a handful of self-selected kingpins -- men with money, mostly -- it actually falls on all of us who live and work in Bristol.
The more I've thought about it, and listened to the thoughts of others, the more I recognize there is a genuine desire to take our best ideas and turn them into reality. There's just a sort of disconnect that keeps it from happening most of the time.
Money, of course, plays a role. There's never enough cash to do everything that ought to be done.
But where there's political will and a community pushing for action, things do happen.
The problem that Bristol has in too many instances is that ideas rarely become plans and plans rarely become reality. In part, the reason is that the government isn't set up to focus on the future.
In the best view of City Hall, it's good at fixing potholes. It's even adequate in making sure a street is paved once in awhile so it won't fall apart.
It deals with things the way they are.
But officials rarely focus on the way things ought to be or could be. They don't look into the future and say we should do this or we should do that because we want Bristol to be something distinct. Decisions aren't made to define the future. They're made instead merely to fix a pressing problem.
Bristol has a good planner in Alan Weiner. It has scores of men and women with expertise to burn. It just doesn't use them to their highest potential.
I'm not sure that having the council meet occasionally to talk about the future would really help. After all, they're just politicians.
But I'm more sure than ever that the city ought to establish some kind of mechanism to pull in residents and offer up ideas. The focus needs to be on a simple question: what should Bristol be?
Without an answer, it won't be long before it's like New Britain or Waterbury or some other struggling municipality that is so consumed with trying to keep the public safe and to educate the poor that it can barely breathe, let alone dream.
Bristol still has time to soar. Let's at least try.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


Anonymous said...

Do they do that in Farmington?

Alan is more of a Zoner, than a Planner: he is too tied into Johnson and Lodovico.

Anonymous said...

I know money is scarce...but...wouldn't it be nice to staff an office/position devoted to urban to work with the community in formulating potential growth....that would work WITH existing departments/agencies, with the schools,churches,clubs & organizations. A place for thoughts of the future...a think tank type of position/ develop directions on a long term basis.....

Anonymous said...

Another thoughtful piece Steve. I think we should enact a zoning ordinance that requires all homes have front porches, so people actually talk to their neighbors again. That's really where it all begins - not at a council table, but at a kitchen table.

Anonymous said...


They do, they call it mayor.

Anonymous said...

The people of Bristol need to attend some town meeting, voice a opinion regardless of what some of these town officials say. It has been well known, in the past, that "Bully" tactics were implemented at these meeting. That a good reason for people to shy away from attending. TRY AGAIN Make a change ,I know I don't like the way things are going in Bristol, so I'll be there.

Gary L. Lawton said...

I agree with Mr. Collins we dont have the civic minded individuals such as Mr.Barnes from what i have read about him he believed in action and finding away to do things that would benefit the city in many ways. I think that the reason we don't see many of those people anymore is becuase it is not always easy to do.Politicians sometimes make it difficult because they may not want to share in the limelight or they are afraid it would offend in someway a people or their belief.

The ordinary citizen does not do it becuase for some it shows no profit or benefit to them personally, or they might feel they would get in some sort of trouble or altercation with local government over an local ordinance they did not know existed.
There are still some who exhibit the civic mindedness, the one person who springs to mind, Dave Pasqualicchio, there are days you can see him in the center of Forestville just doing his part in helping make Bristol the kind of place we want people to live and work in.
While Mr. Barnes may have had the resources to get things done here in the city.You dont have to be well of or the politcal connections to help improve Bristol . As they say just a random act of kindness is all it takes sometimes to get it going, ask a nieghbor if the need some help, see garabage on the ground just pick it up these small things when added together can make Bristol as a whole beome the kind of place we all want to live and work in

Anonymous said...

Then, get good people to run for office, and vote for them because of their qualities, not just because of friendship.

Odin said...

"wouldn't it be nice to staff an office/position devoted to urban to work with the community in formulating potential growth.."

Sorry to be a grouch, but this is nice-sounding gibberish, and we already have too much of that in Bristol. What does "forumulating potential growth" mean"? Does this mean "think up cool stuff for other people (developers) to build"? 'Cuz the taxpayers certainly aren't willing to pay for it - just ask Gerard Couture. Or does it mean "a plan to ensure future development gets built in the right place"? We already got that - it's called "the zoning map".

The problem with Bristol is Bristol. We need more doing and less whining.

Anonymous said...

Odin, your understanding of planning (including its relationship to zoning) would fit inside of a thimble...with room left over.

Mike Werner said...

You brought up memories when you mentioned Bart Barnes. He was one of the area business leaders who took the time to meet with me when I was Mayor and I needed advice. I'd come to his office whenever I had a problem I wasn't sure how to handle. His advice was valuable because of his decades of involvement in the community, his years of business experience and his deep desire to help Bristol. Behind the scenes he helped me with several projects. Not because it was me, and not because he wanted credit, but because it was for Bristol. No one in the City's history loved Bristol more than Bart.

Anonymous said...

Steve, isn't the media a good place to start: articles and letters to the editor?

Wouldn't Schroeder support that?