Overcoming negative perceptions in New London

The  first  snowstorm of the season along State Street in New London, Saturday, December 9, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
The first snowstorm of the season along State Street in New London, Saturday, December 9, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

A few troubling headlines can undo much hard work aimed at improving the image of a community. That’s a reality many urban centers in the state confront, and one that New London, in particular, is going through after a series of violent incidents that took place in short order.

Logically speaking, these series of incidents do not suggest a community that is suddenly less safe than it was a couple of months ago. The crimes did not involve gang violence or a fight over criminal turf. There is no killer on the loose.

Instead, New London has experienced several acts of domestic violence involving what appear to be disturbed individuals. The city has, in other words, seen a series of freak occurrences, not a trend.

But in matters of perception, emotion often trumps logic. Some in the suburbs will equate the recent spate of violent episodes with New London being a violent place and make their entertainment and housing decisions accordingly.

Overcoming negative perceptions and addressing factors that may have contributed to the recent spate of violent behavior is the challenge that confronts city leaders and its advocates.

As a major business in the city, The Day sees New London as a vibrant, diverse community. It has its challenges, certainly, but also some considerable assets.

This spring construction is set to begin on Shipway 221, a 200-unit condominium complex on Howard Street targeting both young professionals attracted to the area by Electric Boat and other businesses and empty nesters looking for the entertainment and activity options available in a small city.

Also in the planning stages is a 90-unit apartment and mixed retail development on “Parcel J” at the corner of Bank and Howard Streets.

These developments boost the prospects of revitalization in the downtown area, which has seen much investor interest.

New London’s waterfront location, its status as a mass transit hub, its vibrant arts and music scene, feature many of the elements that millennials are looking for.

The city’s school system is undergoing fundamental change, with the conversion to magnet schools, offering a variety of curriculum pathways to spark student interest, well underway. The plan holds out the potential to continue improving student performance and make New London schools a regional asset.

Meanwhile, the city’s densely developed neighborhoods and older housing stock offers both advantages and potential problems. Affordability can attract young families searching for that first home. New London’s tenements provide an alternative for those not ready for, or interested in, the burden of a mortgage or not yet in the position to obtain one.

On the bad side, absentee landlords can exploit the cheap housing stock, dividing large, old homes into as many units as possible. The housing can attract individuals on the margins of life, in some cases people who are powder kegs ready to explode, as seemingly happened in the series of recent violent events.

In a statement to try to reassure city residents, New London Mayor Michael Passero said the “city staff has been proactively engaged in developing methods to prevent this type of violence.”

More precisely, the mayor said his administration’s “quality of life” effort is utilizing interagency cooperation among police, fire, health, building and human services officials to target problem housing that is known to be hotspots for violent interactions and that can drag down a neighborhood.

Passero deserves support in his efforts to use the means at his administration’s disposal to assure landlords follow the regulations. More challenging is encouraging greater discernment in who they may rent to, but as a small community New London can have a dialogue on such an issue in a way a larger city cannot.

Most fundamentally, some perspective is in order. While certainly unsettling, these violent events do not suggest a community unraveling. They reveal problems our society confronts, problems that an urban city such as New London shares a greater burden in dealing with. It deserves support in its efforts to deal with them, not condemnation.

 

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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