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Turn Hartford Into A Magnet

September 20, 2005

Revitalization of Hartford is taking place from the outside in. Though neighborhood activists are working for the city's improvement for the good of people who live here, the theme for change still spotlights, as one Courant reader wrote in a recent e-mail to me, "how tourists, suburbanites and the business community perceive the city rather than its own residents."

In the same e-mail, the reader toys with this idea: "It would be an interesting exercise for The Courant to make a list of all the people who are planning Hartford's future - the chamber of commerce, the various economic development boards, the MetroHartford Alliance, the people who are quoted in The Courant on a weekly basis regarding Hartford's future. Then list how many of these good folks: 1) actually live in Hartford and/or 2) have children in the Hartford school system."

He's not the first one to wonder about that. Informally, I've been polling over the years. Whenever I meet a Hartford enthusiast, my first question after listening to his or her impassioned speech is, "Where do you live?" Almost always it's any place except Hartford. That's followed by defensive posturing about why they don't and what has to change before they do and how their spouse won't allow it because of, you know, the schools. All spoken - no hyperbole here - in a whisper.

On the rare occasion I speak to Hartford-based Hartford planners, I know it instantly because I don't have to ask. Their speech is front-loaded with their street address.

My intent is not to guilt-trip Hartford planners and developers who don't live in the city. But I have to wonder if the reason they continue to focus on outsiders vs. residents as a strategy for re-engineering Hartford is because many of them likely don't live here. Their outside-in focus isn't willful; it's simply a reflection of their experience.

Build a city in which people want to live and organically it becomes a magnet for outsiders. If, for example, Hartford had a world-class school system and became the envy of educators across the country, there'd be little need for marketing campaigns. That word would spread like syrup over pancakes and we'd be taking numbers at the city's gateway.

An example: The New York City subway system as we know it today actually wasn't complete until 28 years after its official opening in 1904. Why? Because residents said, "This is pretty good but we want more." They wanted the subway to go farther. They wanted more lines. They wanted more connections from Manhattan to the outer boroughs.

Today, this system is the word's largest, a tourist attraction in itself and everybody rides: residents, business people and tourists. But it began with residents pushing the city's developers to bolster infrastructure that favorably affected their quality of life.

A city is made up of humans. And like the humans it comprises, true, lasting change begins from within.

As for the success of the outside-in strategy for promoting our capital city as a playground for tourists, here's an anecdote:

When I meet people in other parts of the country and tell them I live in Hartford, they say, "Work for an insurance company, huh?" Well, yes. But often I'm tempted to lie because they're so sure about it, so smug.

Hartford's marketing campaigns should only be so strong as its reputation as "Insurance City."

Gina Greenlee edits an internal publication for a financial services company in Hartford and writes a twice-monthly column for The Courant. To leave her a comment, please e-mail her at gdg70@hotmail.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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