Six months ago, I moved from Suffield
to Hartford. When I gave the movers the new address, there was total
disbelief that a working professional would leave suburbia to live
in the city.
This experience illustrates a problem.
We Greater Hartford denizens have little pride of place when it
comes to our capital city. As a result, it is not surprising that
we continue to use up farmland and woodlands for new developments
and clog highways with commuter traffic rather than take advantage
of the convenience of city living.
Suburban residents have strong loyalties
to their towns. They are convinced there are large differences between
Avon and Simsbury, and they defend their towns to all critics. Yet
when it comes to Hartford, there are few defenders and lots of critics.
It is fascinating that every research
study shows visitors ranking Hartford much higher than the people
who live here. I am always amazed that when traveling, a lot of
people say they are from Glastonbury or Windsor or anyplace other
than Hartford - which is, after all, a state capital and an international
place name with a fabled history. Many suburbanites still honestly
state that they haven't been to the city in five years or more.
This year they missed the Picasso show at the Wadsworth Atheneum
Museum of Art, U2 at the Civic Center, "Wicked" at the
Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, "A Christmas Carol"
at Hartford Stage, two new hotels - the new Hartford Marriott Downtown
and the renovated Hilton Hartford - and Ben Bradlee at the Connecticut
Many people are critical of their hometowns.
I was brought up in Manhattan and heard lots of complaints about
traffic, cleanliness, high prices - the list went on. But if an
outsider ever criticized New York, residents would quickly declare
it the best city in the world. We don't have that sort of pride
in Hartford, and it hurts us competitively in the national and international
Since moving to Hartford, I have heard
all sorts of descriptions of it. One is "halfway between Boston
and New York." It may be geographically accurate and a plus
for economic development, but it doesn't generate any local pride.
How about "Hartford is surrounded by the great cities of Boston
and New York"?
The editorial board of The Courant
recently suggested that Hartford's vision should center on insurance
and financial services. Yes, these are important businesses deeply
connected to the city, but they are tough to see as a vision.
For the past four years, I have promoted
the brand "Hartford, New England's Rising Star." The campaign
has contributed to a turnaround in people's perceptions. According
to a recent study, Hartford-area residents believe by a 2-to-1 majority
that the city has improved as a place to work, play, learn and live.
Sixty percent believe the city will continue to improve in 2006.
Now we need something that defines
the Hartford experience. What's our personality? Who are we? What's
our cachet? What do we deliver to residents and visitors alike?
What does living here say about us?
How about focusing on our incredible
art and cultural assets, which have already enticed people to return
to living in the city? How about the historical and future inventiveness
of the city's individuals and companies? The wealth and flavor of
our various cultures might be an area to explore. There is a lot
here to work with.
If we are going to build real
pride in our home city, we need to get people excited about what
we stand for. That should be the next step in Hartford's renaissance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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