Though it's been coming together for more than three years, some people still aren't sure what the iQuilt is, or what it will do for downtown Hartford. Let's talk.
The iQuilt is an arts-based urban design plan for downtown Hartford. It has three areas of focus: walking, culture and innovation. It builds on downtown Hartford's three great competitive advantages: its wonderful parks, its extraordinary arts and cultural assets and its walkable compactness.
The plan was developed not because so much is wrong with downtown Hartford that it needs to be "fixed" or "saved." It was developed because so much is right that needs to be completed, connected and leveraged in order to make Hartford economically competitive.
For decades, downtown was redesigned for the suburban motorist, but since Riverfront Recapture opened in 1999, the tide has turned toward making downtown walkable, livable and sustainable. A billion dollars has been invested (most of it quite well) along the riverfront. 90 percent of the work is done. The iQuilt focuses on the remaining 10 percent.
Its main spine is the GreenWalk, a one-mile chain of new and existing green spaces from the Capitol to the Connecticut River. Among the GreenWalk's key features are:
• The return of flowing water to Bushnell Park, in the form of a new brook with pathways along its edges and nine bridges to cross it.
• A new family area at the park's east end with a permanent skating rink, relocated carousel, food pavilion, playground and water gardens.
• A new Pulaski Circle transformed from a pedestrian nightmare into a walkable roundabout, with housing and shops all around, and a new Pulaski Gate into Bushnell Park
• A new park space called Bushnell Gardens connecting Bushnell Park to Main Street along Gold Street, with a terrace, cafe, bike station and teaching gardens
• A reconfigured Tower Square, creating a true public square between the Travelers and the Atheneum that will serve as a living room for the city
When done, I believe this green pedestrian necklace will be unique among American cities. And if the proposal to lower the I-84 viaduct is realized, the GreenWalk can be extended westward an additional half mile to Asylum Hill.
The focus on parks and public spaces is not just because they are beautiful, but because they have economic power. In large and small cities around the country, investments in public spaces — riverfronts, squares, parks — are generating billions of dollars in collateral investments in shops and housing and, not incidentally, creating thousands of jobs.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at