Agenda 2013: Bringing Tourists, Commuters To Hartford
Hartford Courant Editorial
January 04, 2013
If all goes well, 2013 in Hartford will be the year of the 'ville — as in Coltsville and Parkville.
Dare to hope.
Coltsville, the landmark 19th-century industrial village built by Col. Samuel Colt in the city's South Meadows, awaits National Historic Park designation, for which the state's congressional delegation, particularly U.S. Rep. John Larson, has pushed hard and hopes to achieve this year. The designation should promote both heritage tourism and business development at the iconic site.
City and state officials should begin preparing a tourism promotion program that includes Coltsville as well as the Twain, Webster, Stowe and Old State houses and other attractions. Hear ye, hear ye, there's a lot of history here.
Also, technology business specialist Bruce Carlson is talking about space in the Colt complex for high-tech tinkerers, part of what is called the "maker movement." That is not only a great idea, it is exactly what made the complex famous in the 19th century. It shouldn't be limited to high-tech, however. The city is in dire need of jobs. If someone can figure out a way to make, say railroad ties for the railroad expansions expected in the state, all the better.
Parkville, one of the city's most stable and varied neighborhoods, invites transit-oriented development. The CTfastrak busway between Hartford and New Britain has a stop in the neighborhood, which could be the focal point for more jobs and housing. Developer Carlos Mouta has helped Parkville become a design center, among other things. It's got a lot of housing stock, fine restaurants and bakeries, and Real Art Ways. There's a lot there and a lot to build on.
The busway and commuter rail on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to revitalize Hartford. The challenge is to get more people downtown without giving up more land for roads and parking — parts of downtown already look like archaeological sites. The train can do this and so can the busway, especially if it is quickly expanded to the north and east on the HOV lanes. But the buses have to have signal priority and other amenities, as they do in cities around the world.
The need for better transit will soon became apparent as the University of Connecticut moves its Greater Hartford campus from West Hartford to downtown Hartford. This is a godsend for the city; it will fill empty office space, put more feet on the street, provide customers for restaurants and encourage people to live downtown, especially with moderately priced apartments in the pipeline.
But since most students will be commuting — as they do to Capital Community College, UConn's graduate business program and the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy — the key will be getting them in and out efficiently. That means cars, buses and trains, but it should also include bicycles.
Some intrepid cyclists commute to work now, but it isn't for the faint of heart. With dedicated bike paths or at least bike lanes, it would become less daunting. State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty, a cyclist himself, said he is committed to finishing the East Coast Greenway through the state. The greenway would go east-west through Hartford, a boon to commuting. Add the Riverfront Recapture trails along the river, which are slowly extending north and south, and Hartford becomes a bike mecca — as it was a century ago, when Columbia bicycles and others were made here.
On the development front, we'd like to see downtown parking lots become the site of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings. This would make the city denser and more walkable at the same time. The really bold move: Transfer the state workers from the stately buildings on Elm Street along Bushnell Park to other downtown office buildings and convert the Elm Street structures to housing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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