Courtesy Hartford Courant, Josiah H. Brown

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Sunday, January 7, 1996



















When do you become a New Yorker?

I have acquired some of the characteristics, from the habit of climbing aboard a rush-hour subway on which scores of strangers converge to ignore each other to a talent for cursing at cabdrivers who dare to defy traffic lights that I, too, routinely disregard.

I have come to feel comfortable in several Manhattan neighborhoods and have grown accustomed to nearby cultural marvels -- the Metropolitan Museum, Juilliard concerts, Shakespeare in the Park. I appreciate the rich medley of people in a city where my roommates have included a Sorbonne-educated Chinese woman who works at the U.N.'s West Africa section, a cantor at a Conservative synagogue in Queens and a Tibetan monk engaged in religious studies at Columbia. I have benefited from unparalleled employment opportunities and social possibilities.

Yet I remain from Connecticut, from the distinct northeastern corner unfamiliar to most New Yorkers. Raised in the small community of Hampton, I cherish open fields, quiet woods and rustic rhythms. A long walk on lonely roads is preferable to an evening of bar hopping. Chic health clubs can't compare with a canoe ride or a swim in the pond.

It is tempting but trite, and wrong, to exalt everything rural. The connection between New York and Connecticut is more than a commuter railroad and a simple contrast. There is a unity of problems and purpose that makes a dual attachment especially challenging.

For me, Connecticut, in all its aspects, is home. Depressed mill towns, bleak ghettos and appalling inequality are parts of the whole. Across the state, development pressures are colliding with preservation impulses. Laid-off workers are mourning the loss of jobs in the defense and insurance industries.

Blocks away from the Capitol in Hartford and from Yale in New Haven, impoverished children are struggling to learn and to grow up free of violence. In Bridgeport, economic desperation is fueling a hunger for casino gambling, for anything.

With similar issues confronting New York, there is a chance for the two states to forge a more complementary relationship.

Thousands of Connecticut residents work and pay taxes across the border, and both states have an interest in limiting the extreme competition for corporate employers that leads Albany and City Hall to match financial inducements that Hartford offers.

Avoiding a downward spiral of unfair, fiscally unsound giveaways, policy-makers should aim for a rapprochement in which the entire tri-state region (including New Jersey) seeks to attract and retain business investment. Closer collaboration in such areas as transportation and fighting poverty -- through joint magnet schools and exchange of information on pilot projects -- holds promise.

In addition, better interstate development planning and land-conservation efforts should be pursued.

Given the increasing devolution of federal responsibilities, New York and Connecticut have new reason to cooperate -- as they did recently in lobbying Congress on Medicaid allocations. That Govs. John G. Rowland and George Pataki invoked the model of New Jersey's Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in order to get elected suggests that more tri-state partnerships are possible, too.

In any event citizens of the region should reject a narrow outlook that fosters strict local, state and other group identities. We share problems and must work together to achieve solutions.

It is difficult to reconcile such a cooperative approach with our inclination to define ourselves by geography, ethnicity, race, religion. But if differences divide, they can inspire as well. In an atmosphere of mutual respect and pursuit of common goals, our differences can be an animating force. The growth of a relatively inclusive labor movement from the 1930s into the 1960s and the alliance of African-Americans and Jews during the civil rights era are two examples. The persistence of our two-party system, troubled as it is, further shows the potential for purposeful coalitions.

To emerge, a collective vision requires a favorable environment. As Emerson noted, ``Not insulation of place, but independence of spirit is essential.''

New York City is conducive to ``independence of spirit.'' New York is a center of entrepreneurs, artists and nonconformists, where people exhibit unusual tolerance. It is a venue for testing assumptions and learning about other opinions, ways of life. Arriving from Ohio or California, Central America or Central Europe, we adapt to the city and find our space within it. Whether or not we stay, we don't stay the same.

So in one sense, perhaps just by being here -- working, studying, interacting, observing -- we are New Yorkers.

Still, our origins shape us. I am in New York but not of it, at least not completely. Connecticut is also on my mind.






Josiah Brown is assistant to the president of The New School in New York City and a justice of the peace in Hampton, Conn.