February 22, 2014

A few thoughts on bettering Bristol

In the golden age of Florence, when some of the men whose names have become legend still walked the streets, its population was probably only a little more than Bristol's is today. Think about that. Those men and women were able to construct fabulous churches and palaces, write lasting works of genius, create art and sculpture that fascinate us half a millenia later. Yet the entire population at any one time was certainly less than the number who live today in Bristol and, say, New Britain.

What it says to me is that we cheat ourselves, that we have more wealth than even Florence in its heyday could have imagined. We have more educated people, more food, more access to information and help, more of everything except for one thing: the ambition to shine, to do something magnificent and memorable.

I understand that many people are struggling, that bills pile up, that jobs are too demanding and too few, that we have needs and concerns that drain our time, our energy and our faith in the future. But so did they.

To soar takes luck, for sure, but it also takes a deep, driving commitment to excellence. We have no better example in front of our eyes than ESPN, which started off in a little trailer on Middle Street and grew, by sheer determination to be the best, into the worldwide leader in sports, to become ubiquitous in a period of time so short that some of its first employees are still on the job.

I don't know if Bristol is "all heart," as the marketing folks are pondering. I only know that it has far more potential than it recognizes, that it can dare to create for itself a future that shines. And I know that failing to grasp for that future is perhaps the surest way to decline and decay. What we do today matters. If we choose to be great, we may be. If we opt to sit back, to shy away from the hard job of making the community stronger and better, we all know what will happen: nothing.

I don't imagine that Bristol will ever be a Florence, a mecca for a couple of million tourists a year to come and see great art or gawk at its architecture. I don't know if it will ever produce a writer like Machiavelli or a poet like Petrarch. But I do have faith that if we tried to foster art and culture, it would rebound to our benefit in ways we can't even imagine.

Bristol was built by dreamers and doers, people who helped to invent and perfect manufacturing, who turned clocks into household necessities and perfected the mechanisms within them. Those skills and inventiveness led to new industries that still make this area a hub for springmaking, for precision products, for aerospace parts and much more. There are still people out there hustling every day to build on that tradition. We need more of them.

One of the big issues in town lately has been blight. Officials talk endlessly of fighting blight, of knocking down crummy old structures and pushing out the crime that so often attaches itself to crumbling housing. But the issue really goes much deeper. The blight that really matters sinks into souls. It's the blight that leaves people who could have done important things instead strung out on drugs or trapped in poverty with babies they can't really handle or just grinding through days in a nonstop struggle to survive. It's that kind of blight that leaves a community reeling. To get ahead, we have to find ways to minimize that waste of talent, that wasted opportunity. We have to recognize that we are all in this together.

Bristol can do so much more than it does.

Think back to one of the many wise things Machiavelli advised: "All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” 

Do bold things. That's where the future lies. It is, after all, far better to fall short our dreams than simply to suffer without them.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

No comments: