Rather than hoping Norfolk becomes something it isn’t, we need to embrace what it is. And that’s a fine little city.
Hannah and I took a trip to the Northeast this past weekend to visit friends. I grew up in Connecticut and spent a few years living in New York City, so it was a bit of a return to my roots.
“You see! You see!” I kept saying to Hannah. “This is why I complain about Virginia so much.”
And there were so many this to exclaim about.
How in the little towns in Westchester there seems to be a commitment to supporting old school local businesses, rather than letting the box stores run the mom and pops out.
How in Connecticut even the malls are placed with a consciousness of man’s place in this big green world. My hometown mall, the Danbury Fair, is surrounded by lovely green hills and a marsh. “Oh look, a deer and a swan,” as Hannah said in Danbury, were words you probably won’t ever hear at MacArthur.
And then there was New York City, the big’in.
“Next time I hear someone call Hampton Roads ‘The Seven Cities,'” I threatened as we walked across 34th St, just below the Empire State Building and next to Madison Square Garden. “I’m going to take them by the ear and drag them to this spot and ask, ‘Which one of these towns are you counting as seven cities, you dummy?'”
Just before we were to get onto the Chinatown bus to come back home, we stopped into Macy’s to use the bathroom. As I shuffled up to the urinal to do my business, I noticed that I had a new friend to my left.
It happened to be the kind of new friend that likes to watch you pee.
As I turned my shoulders to block his view I thought, “At least in Norfolk they don’t watch you pee.”
And that to me, in some odd way, crystallized my appreciation for Norfolk. No, it isn’t a big city, but we do have some great big city-esque spots like the NorVA, Seven Venues, The Chrysler, and even the USS Wisconsin. At none of these places will people watch you pee, because we’re too small of a city for that. You’re bound to see the pervy offender around town, and small-town-edness is probably the best defense against pervs (and all other big city scourges, for that matter).
But there’s also a small-town kind of feel to Norfolk too. Yorgo’s reminds me a bit of Steve’s back in Connecticut, where all the families would caravan to after church for hot bagels and muffins. Fair Grounds is the kind of artist/activist/good person centrifuge that any hamlet would be proud to call its own. And we do have nature here too, it’s just poorly integrated. It’s easy to forget that Seashore State Park and the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge are just a short drive away.
And–oh man–let’s not discount the water. It’s everywhere but yet it often feels hidden. I’m often delighted by surprising upon The Hague or the Elizabeth River. I mean, just look at the view from my apartment window, even on this rainy day (inset).
I probably spend as much time as anyone thinking about what’s wrong with this city. But I also spend just as much time thinking about how we can make it better. I have some ideas in my head, and things are happening, but so far I’ve only been able to come to one real conclusion:
Rather than hoping Norfolk becomes something it isn’t, we need to embrace what it is. And that’s a fine little city with some decent people, some truly lovely neighborhoods, a growing creative class, and a strong as oak economic base (thanks Navy!) that will provide stability into the foreseeable future and beyond.
Let’s start with that. And that ain’t bad.