How New Yorkers in One Small Town Became Allies Instead of Enemies
Unlike the $ 2,200 caviar from Bilboquet in Sag Harbor, the Cornwall Country Market in Cornwall, Connecticut offers a Cordon Bleu chicken sandwich for $ 8.99. If you wanted to crank things up several notches you would need to drive 24 minutes to the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, but even there you would be hard pressed to compete with the debauchery of the East End of Long Island: l The most expensive item on the menu is a $ 42 strip loin with fries.
Litchfield County in northwest Connecticut has always been long about wealth and status but short on the vulgarities of the Hamptons, and within its framework Cornwall has remained singularly opposed to ostentation. Like Sag Harbor, Cornwall evolved as a community in the mid-18th century and attracted artists, writers and scholars in the 20th century – poet Mark Van Doren, comedian James Thurber, sculptor Tim Prentice – but unlike So many previously bohemian places now colonized by wealthy New Yorkers, Cornwall has largely protected itself from the excesses and rights of the financial class.
So when city dwellers took root in their second homes or occupied new ones during the pandemic, some with the intention of staying forever, the story took an unpredictable turn.
The push was actually welcome. Although many people are moving here, enough for the city to significantly supplement its sanitation budget, it is a place where the population has been aging and declining for more than a decade. Classes that previously had too few students now had many more.
Many of the city’s public services are provided on a voluntary basis, and as Gordon Ridgway, Cornwall’s first elected man and city mayor for 30 years, explained, “There were now people mobilizing for do everything. A Google executive, for example, created a platform for a local pantry to provide services.
The acrimonies and resentments that can characterize relationships in cities like Cornwall often stem from the weekend’s ignorance of the struggles of workers who find themselves increasingly marginalized by rising housing costs. In Ulster County, New York, where Woodstock is located, for example, county executive Pat Ryan recently implemented a universal basic income program to address growing poverty. “People shouldn’t expect to move to these rural areas and find a large nature reserve. People are as stressed out here as they are elsewhere, ”said Ridgway, who has seen first-hand the benefits of part-time and full-time people working together in the city. “We need a variety of people.
The most visible change has been an explosion of interest in local politics and civic issues. Suddenly, town meetings, which previously attracted very few people, attract dozens. New Yorkers are out there and notice things, and they’re not afraid to speak up. Something they noticed early on was a botched repair to one of Cornwall’s architecturally significant bridges, which replaced the original concrete with an unappealing metal railing.
The controversy that aroused quickly became known in the city as the “bridgegate”. Speaking on behalf of those aggrieved, a displaced New Yorker wrote a lengthy letter to local officials, after reviewing documents and hours of video footage of meetings that led to the construction decision. She wanted to know why it was “a” man who had set “the winning agenda for our bridges”. standards and public decision-making process ”and that“ we did not have to rely on the latest, most efficient and cheapest solution ”.
It might have seemed like a compelling position if it had come from a suddenly attentive investment banker from Central Park West, but the writer of the letter wasn’t so despicable. An architect named Tobie Cornejo who oversees affordable housing initiatives in Brooklyn and East Harlem, she had been coming to Cornwall for over two decades before moving with her husband and children to her in-laws’ home for a long time. of the pandemic. By spending so much more time in the city, she wanted to be more involved. “I wondered where the hell had I been as a citizen for the past 20 years,” she said.
“As much as I want a nice little bridge at the end of my road, what I really want is a historic district, a site map and a process that would disseminate information so that I can make better decisions. “
While some in town have complained about the intrusions, many others seem to welcome the plea. As Joanne Wojtusiak, who has lived in Cornwall for 34 years, told me: “Our town halls are driven by different points of view and what is wrong with that? What’s bad is that they are driving up house prices, ” she said, admitting it was just a sign of the times. “The genie is out of the bottle. Small towns like Cornwall would never come back under the control of a small group of white men.
Another drama that marked the Covid-19 period in Cornwall, although its origins predated the pandemic, involves the relaxation of regulations regarding home-based businesses, a move taken to attract more young working families to the region . Generally speaking, it was not the picky New Yorkers who opposed the decision, fearing that an auto body shop would appear in plain sight of the pool house, but rather older longtime residents. who worried about noise and disruption of “local character”. But even within this demographics, there seemed to be a sense of awakening to the spirit of debate.
As one longtime resident wrote in a letter to a local newspaper, he felt compelled to break his habit of reluctance. “I think the risk posed by the noise and dust of working and living women and men is much less than the destruction caused by the muted tones of paddle tennis fashion across our country,” a- he declared.
In the name of promoting equity, for which the state of Connecticut is not famous, lawmakers decided not long ago that individual cities should increase their stock of affordable housing. Another New Yorker who has been coming to Cornwall for 50 years is now on the plan’s steering committee: Ingrid Gould Ellen, professor of town planning and politics at New York University. She previously worked at the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development under the guidance of recent mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan, who also owns a house in Cornwall. If a battle does break out, it looks like the soldiers are in place.
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