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Where's Hartford's Pride?

January 15, 2006
Commentary By Michael R. Kintner

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 Forum.

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 marketplace.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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