Downtown Norwich: The Underappreciated Advantage of Closeness


Submitted a month ago
Created by
Mark Lilienthal

I suppose if there is ever a safe place to brag about Norwich, this is probably it. So why don’t we examine what I think is an underappreciated advantage of our town: closeness.

Downtown in Norwich is different from many other Upper Valley towns because it possesses excellent clustering. Everything you need is nearby. We take it for granted, rarely considering the cumulative convenience of having all our services, commerce, and gathering points within walking distance of each other. Let us examine.

For starters, our elementary school is really the beginning of town. It is the first major landmark one encounters when arriving in 05055 from the highway, Route 5, or New Hampshire. Its vast open playgrounds and fields are covered in kids during the school year, always a pleasant and life-affirming site. The bandstand sits proudly, an indicator that the community gathers in this spot even when school is out of session. The green and the school provide a wonderful welcome mat for those entering our town. I won’t name any of our surrounding towns that don’t have this feature, but I think your mind’s eye can take you to some of those places and see that the elementary schools are not centrally located, victims of subpar clustering. Some, alas, are located on or near MAJOR ROADS, making walkability an impossibility. 
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For those that are into the religious side of life, one cannot miss the gray church and the striking white church flanking the schoolyard on two sides, both of which play important roles in secular life, too. 
Assuming we are on foot, we next encounter Tracy Hall and its town offices, public restrooms (don’t tell the thru hikers!), and space for contra dances, farmers markets, rummage sales, and that great democratic tradition of voting.

A scattershot of small businesses are all around. Just in the “b’s” we find bakeries, barbers, banks, booze, and books. From on-the-go eating to more formal sit-down affairs, you can reach all on foot within three minutes of the bandstand. You can get a massage, work on your mental health, pick up some new yarn for a sweater, work on (or end!) your marriage, focus on financial planning, investigate youth soccer programs, mail a package to someone not as fortunate as you (hey, they don’t live in Norwich, hence they deserve our compassion, right?), or sit in a rocking chair and watch the world go by.

Not bad for a town of our size.
Still on foot, toujours within a few minute walk of the bandstand where we started, we can jaywalk with total impunity, watch cars pulling out of the general store’s parking lot in manners all sorts of zany with nary a honk nor rude gesture to be observed, rest our weary head at the local inn, visit the grave of a dearly departed, avail ourselves of a little playground behind the white church, or sneak a swim on private property that owners kindly allow. 

If your journey falls on the lucky Saturday of the month, you’re crushing pancakes, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, coffee, and juice at the Grange, neatly protected by the local safety and security services. 

Slightly farther afield, the bibliophile who yearns for more literature after her trip to the local merchant will find her bliss at the library. Sometimes, one may even station oneself in front of the very same library to snag a little bit of free wifi.

Now, it would be far below the standards of a denizen of Norwich to ask whether other towns in the area share this same constellation of features in such a manageable, safe, bucolic, utopian manner. 
So we won’t even dare compare, will we? Perhaps, however, we might wink at one another now and again as we walk from post office to store to school to town hall, happy to be in the place we call home.

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