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Giving Up On City Is No Solution

June 4, 2006

When you think about it, the events of the last 10 days were all pretty predictable: the rash of violence as the weather warmed up; the grandstanding by politicians; the rattled response from suburbanites.

"As a suburbanite, I would be loath to drive into Hartford now for any reason," wrote William Horton of West Hartford. "I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking about this."

He certainly wasn't. By the end of the day Friday, I'd received more than a dozen similar calls and e-mails, though few as lucid or thoughtful as his.

While some expressed regret at abandoning Hartford, more boasted about how they'd distanced themselves from the capital city:

"You couldn't pay me enough to step one foot in Hartford," a reader from Hamden wrote.

"I haven't been to Hartford in years and the week's events only solidify that decision," shared a reader from South Windsor.

"Tell the folks who are building all that stuff in Hartford to stop," a reader who moved his family out of Hartford just over the line to East Hartford wrote. "Nothing good happens there. ... There's no saving Hartford."

Look, I understand that predictability is the whole point of suburban existence; that's why when anything at all happens in suburbia, it's news. The Glastonbury Citizen, June 1: "Animal Control Officer Kodes went to Harvest Lane to a report that a dog attacked a woodchuck and the woodchuck was `Barely alive.'"

It's why things like drive-bys frighten some suburbanites to the core. It's unknown, it's frightening, it's completely unpredictable.

But here's the thing that's lost on them: There is very little randomness to the violence in this city. I'm not trying to tempt the universe here, but even when bullets find their way to an innocent victim in Hartford, the victim invariably is living in one of the besieged neighborhoods. Unless a suburbanite is trolling for crack in the wee hours, there's not much risk in visiting the city.

Many e-mails were about what Hartford needs to do to heal itself. The ideas varied in practicality: Curfews. Cops. Lockdowns. But there was one constant. "City residents have to work together to get things under control," wrote Morris Benson of Ellington.

He's right. I thought Mayor Eddie Perez's much-publicized stroll to the Capitol was silly showboating, but on this the mayor and I agree: No amount of police or programs or private development will cure Hartford. In the end, it is the community that will determine the city's fate.

But who says the community stops at the city line?

What good does abandoning the capital city do anyone? Doesn't its success benefit everyone in the state? You might even say that it is the suburbanites who come in to enjoy a show at the Bushnell or a game at the Civic Center who benefit the most.

Still, Hartford and other cities can seem expendable in this era of suburban sprawl. Folks don't have to come into Hartford - they can get everything they need in their own towns. "For me, it is much easier to go to West Hartford Center," Horton said.

The danger, of course, is that when the city becomes expendable, so do its people. And it compounds the isolation, the distance between city and suburbs, between people who may live miles apart, but who want the same things out of life.

Regardless of their ZIP code.

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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