I've been thinking lately that what Bristol needs is a clearer vision of what it wants to become and a whole lot more discussion of how it can get there.
That's not the radical idea, though.
Thanks in large part to ESPN's presence in town, which bolsters the tax base and gives the city a certain mystique, Bristol hasn't yet gone the way of New Britain, Waterbury, Meriden and other towns that are struggling to keep a semblance of a middle class around.
But with rising numbers of children growing up in poverty -- as the free and reduced school lunch figures clearly demonstrate -- the city's on the edge. It could plummet into the depths.
More hopefully, however, it could also soar.
What's missing in the city, as an interesting talk I had this morning made clear, is the sort of community involvement and debate about what sort of future people would like to see.
In decades past, civic-minded individuals who held a powerful place in community life, men like Bart Barnes, could nudge, prod and sometimes push to get the city to move forward. Those guys are gone.
Nowadays, it's going to take a broader civic activism that simply doesn't exist.
How to achieve that is the tough issue. It's not like you can wave a magic wand and suddenly every talented resident will leap into focus, ready to chip in to make Bristol a better place.
I hear candidates say every two years that we need to do more to attract all these wonderful people to get involved. And it's true. But I rarely see anything that shows much commitment to doing much more than talk about how nice it would be to have some new faces and new ideas.
I have an idea, though, that's not really all that radical.
The City Council here meets formally only one night a month, with the exception of a few special meetings that usually get called to pass some kind of emergency measure.
It's not enough.
The meetings are the one time when the community's chosen leaders gather to do the city's business. But because the sessions are so rare, they are consumed by officials giving the stamp of approval to a bunch of boring, mostly bureaucratic stuff. There's hardly any time to talk about much of anything.
Pushed to the back burner are the kinds of discussions that should be the essence of the council's role, those that focus on what Bristol should be doing, what it could do, what it longs to become.
Those kinds of sessions could in theory happen in some of the many committee meetings. Once in awhile, they do.
But what's really needed is a regular meeting that is devoted mostly to talking about plans, ideas, wishes and hopes, the sort of community conversation that ultimately leads to change, that fosters the type of civic endeavors that can make us proud.
City Council meetings should take place at least twice a month, not just on second Tuesdays.
It's a small step but it would put one of Bristol's biggest needs front and center at least once a month: to think of what's to come instead of just sniping about what's already past. There needs to be a time when leaders and interested citizens get together to dream.
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Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org