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
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
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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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