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Smile While You Park in Norwalk

Is "park" a four-letter word? Well, yes, if you're thinking literally. But, no. Not if you're planning to park your car in Norwalk. Kathryn Hebert and her cohort, Mr. Smiley, the convivial parking meter/face fronting the Norwalk Parking Authority , are here to convince you that parking in Norwalk is abundant, convenient and inexpensive.

"Mr. Smiley is great because he happily does everything I ask him to do," says Kathryn, director of the Authority since its inception in 2002. Mr. Smiley is the Authority's mascot, and what she asks him to do is inform drivers about where and how to park in Norwalk, which he does from the Authority's website and ad campaigns.

"Parking should be a positive activity ," she says "Well," she adds, "At least it shouldn't be a negative one." Through the work of the Authority, parking in particular sections of Norwalk, including the Wall Street area, South Norwalk and East Avenue train stations and downtown South Norwalk has been upgraded to hassle-free. These areas are now outfitted with new and simple-to-use sheltered pay kiosks, obviating the need for a gated, manned facility. According to Kathryn, the pay kiosks were the first of their kind on the Eastern Seaboard with credit card-reading equipment. "It's high-tech but mostly, it's incredibly convenient," she adds.

The Parking Authority is a financially self-sustaining (expenses are funded by parking fees, not taxpayer dollars) organization responsible for the operations and maintenance of the city's municipal parking system, which consists of four parking structures and six surface lots, as well as on-street parking. "Cars and parking are necessary pieces of our lives in Fairfield County," she says. "And we're here to make those pieces less difficult."

Parking is just an uncelebrated success when it's not a huge problem, a fact that might mitigate its excitement for some people. But not for Kathryn. "Did I think I'd have a passion for parking?" She asks. "Not exactly. I didn't go to school for it and I never actually envisioned myself overseeing a city's parking authority." Her masters degree in public finance and doctorate in business administration underscore that fact, but they don't make her less enthusiastic about her job. "It's a challenge. And I love challenges," she says.

The Authority is not limited to white lines and metal parking meters. Its work integrates itself into the fabric of the community through aesthetic facility upgrades, such as the rotating visual arts exhibits in the Maritime Aquarium's garage, as well as flooring, lighting, security, technology and concession area upgrades at the South Norwalk train station.

Kathryn and Mr. Smiley both entreat you to park in Norwalk. You won't have a bad word to say about the experience.

Got any parking secrets to share? I promise I won't tell... You can email me at jcurtis@mainstreetconnect.us, or drop me a line here.

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