Opinion: Trumbull has a unique chance to reinvent itself as something more than a postwar suburb

A view of South Edgewood Avenue in Trumbull.

A view of South Edgewood Avenue in Trumbull.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

Trumbull has a unique chance to reinvent itself as something more than a postwar suburb by following through on its 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development and building a people-focused, walkable center. Trumbull is a beautiful town with a wonderful quality of life, but it’s also a collection of homes in search of a place. With the strip malls in the “town center” currently emptying out, we have a chance to replace the sea of underutilized surface parking with a place that prioritizes people and walking.

Trumbull lacks what sociologist Ray Oldenburg termed “third places.” Writing in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Oldenburg defined third places as the informal gathering points in a community, contrasting them with first places (our homes) and second places (work). Third places can be beer gardens, walkable main streets, coffee shops, cafes or parks — anywhere that allows for the kinds of spontaneous social contact with friends and neighbors that’s so essential to our emotional well-being. Unfortunately, auto-centric suburban development tends to diminish these spaces. Writing in 1997, Oldenburg said:

“What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably—a ‘place on the corner,’ real life alternatives to television, easy escapes...that do not necessitate getting into an automobile.” (“Our Vanishing ‘Third Places’”)

Crucially, Trumbull’s residents agree with these sentiments. The introduction to Trumbull’s 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development states that “residents are eager for Trumbull to have a true Town Center and to find ways to incorporate elements of historic villages into our development patterns.” Later, the plan reports that “residents would like the Town Center to become more of a destination and community focal point in a walkable setting.” These are not isolated sentiments; indeed, the planning document contains the phrase “town center” 54 times.

We need to envision a new Trumbull in the same way our grandparents did 70 years ago. In 1950, the World War II generation looked at the farm lands north of Bridgeport and pictured a suburban paradise of backyards, lawns and barbecues. Every family would have a detached home, half an acre of land and easy motoring thanks to the Merritt Parkway. Our grandparents imagined a new type of life, one that Amelia Fogarty described in Smithsonian Insider as centered on the private realm. Writing about the suburban backyard, she stated:

“Front porches and stoops were stripped from the designs [of homes], fundamentally changing the focus of community interaction. Socializing migrated from the front of the house around to the backyard. Add the ubiquitous fence and more private, invitation-only socializing became the popular norm.”

I understand the choices made by the World War II generation, but we’re not beholden to their vision forever. I love my backyard, but it was a mistake to trade in front porches for the exclusivity of the backyard patio. And the idea of easy motoring on the Merritt and unlimited parking at strip malls has been replaced with hours of gridlock and the anonymity of car travel. But things don’t have to be this way. We can choose to build a town based on walking, biking and spontaneous contact with friends and neighbors.

And we don’t have to stop with a new, walkable town center on White Plains Road. Locally, we can and should expand the Pequonnock Greenway and better connect our nodes at Town Hall and Long Hill Green. Sidewalks are expensive to build and maintain, but constructing them strategically on roads that connect populated neighborhoods (Edison Road, for example) would transform mobility in town. On a state level, Trumbull should support SB 1024 and its overhaul of parking minimums and push for legalizing duplexes and ADUs, which would expand walkability while adding support for local businesses in a new town center.

We really can build a Trumbull where children bike safely across town to visit friends, seniors independently walk for groceries and we all get out of our cars on a regular basis. A more walkable and bikeable Trumbull will be better for its residents, better for its businesses and better for the region.

Tom Broderick is a Connecticut educator and Trumbull resident.