“Do you remember when that was a vacant lot?,” I asked a friend as we looked out onto the picturesque apartment complex. We stood outside a recently opened restaurant. A small crowd of people laughed and walked into a bar across the street, live music boomed as they entered. A historic theater stood next door, its large red BIJOU letters hung in the distance.
I was a timid eighteen-year-old when I first moved to Downtown Bridgeport into an artist loft. The goal of the building was to bring art to impoverished areas. Bridgeport, Connecticut is a beautiful city battling a bad reputation. The downtown was and remains one of the focus areas of an artistic revitalization effort. But in the winter that I arrived it was a ghost town.
A business district, the area was left with nothing and no one after 5pm. My grandmother gave me a key chain with a whistle and wished me luck. I was apprehensive and withdrawn. I sat on the local cabaret steps on a summer night before leaving for college. I asked myself what I was doing there. I wanted badly to believe in the promise of this neighborhood. Some days I could see the potential so clearly while other days change felt so clouded. But change happens the way seasons seamlessly flow from one to the next. Almost out of nowhere, spring may appear to arrive, when really everything was growing under the surface all winter.
After my college experience, I decided to return to this site. Surprisingly, new residents had sprouted into various lofts and apartments. The city had changed and with it I found myself a more social and optimistic person. I attended karaoke nights, art festivals, farmers markets and concerts on the downtown green. I submitted artwork to downtown galleries. Lastly, I joined a community with the handful of local residents who shared a familiar feeling of love and faith for this city that I thought was gone long ago.
I have found a new confidence and bravery in my current position, as well as a sense of personal and regional pride. I never realized that a location could be so defining in my path of self-discovery. But I see it in myself and in those around me. At 27 years old, each day brings a new development, a city and self in transition, and an underlying feeling of transformation.