Motivated by a recent question series that friend and blogger posted on her own blog, What Does America Want?, I began asking the same question about our town.
In talking to residents, the obvious answer is lower taxes. But I challenge us to consider more deeply than that. Perhaps the real question is What Does Stratford Want to Be?
Residents are frustrated by what they feel is a lack of progress and cohesive vision. Additionally, the same departments and budget items consistently seem to draw ire for wasteful spending. The parties of "D" and "R" next to candidates' names have replaced what's most important: that we all belong to "S" -- Stratford.
Outsiders who rely on search engines and press to tell our story will find divisive politics, ghostly remains of theaters and Army buildings, an airport we don't control, and sleight-of-hand ownership with beach referendums.
When did Stratford lose control of the conversation? And how do we begin to regain ownership of our town and it's identity?
There are two obstacles that have prevented us from moving forward, I think. Individually, they are not insurmountable but they become quicksand when mixed together.
One, Stratford's compartmentalized geography makes it difficult to have a cohesive identity. We have some separate and very small pedestrian-friendly commercial areas; waterfront and beach; a nearly forgotten forest; a unique public park; light industrial and small manufacturing businesses; prominent empty and unused buildings; and an abundance of untapped potential.
Second, we haven't had a continuum of leaders maintaining focus on any one thing and seen it to fruition. Let's pick just one area of town, one project, one pie-in-the-sky idea from our wish list, rally around it and finally get it done.
We did it with the animal shelter but it's too easy to forget the hard-won success of building the new shelter when it's not in a high-traffic area with continued exposure.
Why not the next? An accomplishment of that magnitude would provide momentum for the next success, and the next. Finally, we'd be able to close chapters and move on instead of wallowing in years of inactivity.
I was able to see Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, speak at the World Business Forum last week, and his message was largely about the national economy, which he called an "emergency situation."
Stratford is a microcosm of the rest of the country, and I couldn't help see the similarities when Schultz talked about the dysfunction of political gridlock and asked, "Is this the best we can get? Don't we deserve more?"
As Schultz implored in his presentation, if you hear or see something that isn't right, you must stand up. "We are better than this, we deserve more than this. Please do not be a bystander," he said.
The people of Stratford need to become active partners with elected officials to work in concert defining what Stratford wants and what Stratford wants to be. It's up to us.