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And now a word from our cities

This week's Eat in the Street event in New London may not have brought out the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of a traditional Sailfest, but what it lacked in sheer numbers it more than made up for in creativity, community spirit and fun. With Bank Street, a main downtown thoroughfare, closed to vehicular traffic, the chocolate-themed event featured plenty of kids' activities, music and food. It all culminated with a fireworks display, much to the delight of the more-than-respectably-sized crowd.

Eat in the Street, which will continue on the first Wednesdays of July, August and September, is one example of the creative new ways businesses, officials and city leaders are working to pump new vigor into southeastern Connecticut's two urban centers, New London and Norwich. These efforts are most welcome and should help to re-ignite community pride and entice visitors back to downtown districts after the pandemic dealt a particularly harsh punch to cities.

Besides Eat in the Street and other fun-focused events, New London has launched an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at attracting visitors, new residents and investors. The campaign features two new websites — visitNewLondon.org and DevelopNewLondon.com — with logos that incorporate the city's whaling and maritime history, a nationally televised marketing video and an aggressive social media campaign using plenty of stunning visuals and compelling stories of local businesses and residents.

Best of all, the campaign seeks to capitalize on the city's real assets: its shoreline beauty, its racial and ethnic diversity, its vibrant and avant garde arts scene, its affordable housing and its blue-collar authenticity.

"We're excited to begin marketing the city as a lively, authentic, culturally diverse destination," Mayor Michael Passero said in a statement kicking off the campaign last month.

Up the Thames River in the Rose City of Norwich, local leaders also are busy seeking to highlight that city's restaurants, attractions, culture and history. Several local partners have teamed there to offer a free Passport to Norwich booklet. Passport holders will get a stamp each time they spend $10 or more at any of the more than 50 delis, coffee shops, fast food eateries and full-service restaurants featured in the booklet. Those who collect 20 or more stamps can drop off their passports at a designated city location and be entered into drawings to win prizes that include $250 in restaurant gift cards.

If the program is successful, Mayor Peter Nystrom said the local business US Foods, the program's major sponsor, will consider extending it beyond December 2021.

We congratulate and encourage all those behind the efforts to bolster these culturally and historically rich and diverse — but financially challenged — cities, where numerous restaurants and businesses closed during the pandemic.

While southeastern Connecticut as a whole is truly blessed with beauty, history and culture throughout the region, marketing efforts aimed at drawing visitors here too often focus only on the tourism powerhouse of Mystic. We are grateful that Mystic's combination of visitor services, attractions and quaintness make it a hugely popular destination. Still, the rich history of both Norwich and New London, along with attractions such as Norwich's Slater Museum and Mohegan Park and New London's Fort Trumbull, Garde Arts Center, Thames River Heritage Park water taxi and Ocean Beach make the cities attractive as well.

It may not be easy to market and brand urban centers in comparison to more upscale communities, but the effort to revitalize the cities that for centuries were the region's economic drivers will benefit the whole area. We encourage state tourism officials to think beyond Mystic in marketing and supporting southeastern Connecticut and urge residents throughout the region to head downtown this summer and enjoy the arts, eats, culture and history these cities offer.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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