I grew up in the wealthy Fairfield County, Connecticut. From my vantage point, the Naugatuck Valley was almost as big an eyesore as nearby Bridgeport - "the Valley" had less violent crime, at least. I knew very little about Waterbury. I drove there exactly once before the age of 17 - to pick up my driver's license with my father. The city was nothing more than a part of the small, but historic, rust belt running up the Naugatuck River. I did end up appreciating The Valley at the age of 23, when I moved to Derby, south of Waterbury and west of New Haven, after my parents retired to North Carolina. Immediately, I was intrigued by the residents.
My neighborhood had an interesting mix of Eastern Europeans (Polish and Romanian) immigrants, blacks, and me. During my 19 month residency, I was exposed to a dynamic community that knew virtually nothing of Derby's proud industrial history. There were few, if any, long-time families. Most had lived there since the 60s or 70s and worked in Fairfield County, making the quick drive down Route 8. Few worked north in Waterbury.
That's why I am intrigued by an article in The Atlantic Cities talking about the potential to revitalize Waterbury, the "Brass City" of a bygone industrial era from a century ago. Could high speed rail save Waterbury? The article uses the small city of Ciudad Real, Spain as an example. Ciudad Real boomed after high speed rail moved into town. Folks from Madrid and Sevilla moved in to save on housing expenses. Businesses moved in to cater to the new crowd. The rail line was a channel for gentrification. It's a nice story.
The problem is: Waterbury isn't ready for it. Even if Amtrak moved into town (which is FAR from a sure thing), it would be greeted by a divided city. There are neighborhoods with lovely homes that want nothing to do with the rest of the city. These homes are their own bedroom community. They live relatively well due to incentives and protection by the city. An invasion of wealth may not suit their interests. Also: the city's systems are poorly run. The city has had its share of bad politicians running it. One of my landlords, who lived in an affluent and isolated Waterbury community, described the waste disposal process to me: "They don't have a dedicated pick-up for large items, like couches. So every week, people just throw their large crap on the sidewalk. It's like the city has thrown up. It looks awful." Not exactly appealing to those with means.
But it's not like I want Waterbury to fail. I have friends who live there, and I'm interested in seeing it thrive. I don't know what effect that would have on the rest of the region, but it'd be good to see some competition to the wealthy folks in Westport and Stamford for once.