I love Mansfield!
Trouble is, it doesn’t really exist. Pure fantasy.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. But before you call my sanity into question, check it out. No zip code exists for Mansfield. (There is one for Storrs-Mansfield and Mansfield Center, but no Mansfield.)
Two nights ago the public had the opportunity to examine Mansfield-land’s (aka Storrs Center Project) detailed plans for its proposed Village Street before its submission to the Town Planner for his approval.
Sadly, most residents believe (and rightly so) that this downtown development train, while lumbering down the tracks at a glacial pace, cannot be stopped. Heads shake, people complain, but everyone is at a loss. What to do?
It is the perfect example of a supply without a demand, they say.
Residents are smart, real smart. They know they will pay for this mistake for years and years to come in higher taxes, vacant store fronts, and empty parking garages. And where, they say, are the principals who, together with UConn officials, kept up the steady drumbeat for this project? Well, they took their retirement package and headed straight out of town.
At an earlier point, the Town’s development team pitched Mansfield-land as New Bedford Falls. (For those readers unfamiliar with the reference, it was the small town in the 1946 Jimmy Stewart movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.")
I always thought this loopy real estate plan was more like “The Simpsons” episode of “Marge vs. The Monorail” in which the fictitious city of Springfield is sold a “monorail to nowhere” by a flimflam man, and at the end of the episode another equally ludicrous project, an “escalator to nowhere”.
Mansfield never was a single town. Ever! It was closer to the squabbling Balkans, a geographical region comprised of something like 16 villages with beautiful names like Chaffeeville, Gurleyville, Warrenville, Mansfield City, Mansfield Center, and my favorite, Eagleville. (Some of these tiny villages in my estimation never rose to the level of a village. They were more like hamlets, but let’s not quibble.)
The important thing to remember is that 18th and 19th century travel between these villages during winter, early spring, and late fall was nearly impassible on the rutted and rough dirt roads through the hills and vales that intersected the area. Even the Native Americans, it was said, used it as hunting grounds only with no permanent settlements. Each of these villages became, through necessity, fiercely proud and independent with their own general store, church and small functional green for animals.
Fast forward to the present day.
Mansfield-land, no matter how it is packaged, will never be the soul of this community. There was never a longing for it. There was no need for it commercially.
Sadly, Village Street may, like the Springfield monorail and escalator, become our very own “street to nowhere”.