O’Hagan: Greenwich Drains the Pool

Submitted by Lorelei O’Hagan – Cos Cob

At the BET annual budget meeting for the public in March, I asked Why can’t we have nice things? Why are we so singularly stingy toward ourselves? Sidewalks, sounds barriers, modern school buildings, enviable community centers, level play fields, bike paths, a North West Fire House, nope.

There’s a new book out called “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone” in which the author, Heather McGhee, an economic policy expert, offers a metaphor to help us understand why the town of Greenwich (and others like it) underfunds its public spaces over and over again, at a great loss to the entire community. And why we’ve accepted this message from those who directly benefit from this status quo; those who don’t utilize the public schools and spaces.

The drained public pools
In the 1920s, 30s, 40s the government went on a nationwide building boom of tax funded public goods, among them, grand, resort style public pools across the US; there were over 2000 such pools. It was a show of grandeur and prosperity for a newly thriving middle class. For whites only.

In the 1950s and 60s during the Civil Rights Era – when Black communities were gaining new rights to public spaces, in order to avoid integrating the public pools, most of the towns drained their pools rather than let Black families swim in them. All the white families lost the pools, too.

Once the idea of the public included people of color, not only was the public no longer good, but white people no longer wanted public goods at all. Heather McGee wrote

Let us all to consider how this mindset that allows us to cut off our noses to spite our face is playing out here, in Greenwich. On the issue of funding and investing in our public schools, the message of fiscal conservatism and austerity, with these deep roots in segregation, is not serving us. We have reached the economic and moral limits of the zero-sum world view: the us and them – what’s good for them is bad for us. Our public schools are languishing, ceilings collapsing and fields standing idle because those in power don’t want them.

It’s stripping our own neighborhoods of collective benefits. And the wealth and opportunity gaps here have never been greater.

The roots of the reason the BET does not fund the BOE budget in full, the North West Fire House, the Julian Curtiss upgrades, and the East-West Bike Study, this year are becoming clear. Cutting these public goods that benefit all of us, in this diverse community, is not winning. It’s draining our pool.

The way forward is to view the Greenwich Public Schools as a community treasure and to channel our resources there with the urgency and devotion all of our children deserve.

Lorelei O’Hagan – Cos Cob resident