When the "Greenberg Plan" was issued, the document prominently bore a date: December 1998. It was as though the precise month of publication mattered, because the gallop of Hartford's progress was going to be measured in the quick pace of months, not years.
Seven and a half years later, that has not always proved to be the case. Much has changed and much been accomplished in the city and the region, some of it foreseen and promoted in the original plan, some of it not.
Much has also not changed. Both the action and the inertia are worth assessing as Ken Greenberg begins leading the process of updating the plan.
The Toronto-based planner will speak Tuesday at a Rising Star breakfast, one of Hartford's habitual dawn-of-day meetings. This inaugurates a public process that will produce a "Hartford 2010" plan.
Hartford 2010 is jointly sponsored by the MetroHartford Alliance, the regional business organization, and the city. City leaders are pushing to get the new plan done quickly, with goals that are realistic and near-term. That is an attitude change worth mentioning. The 1998 plan, although equipped with the backing of downtown business groups and the city council, at critical points ran afoul of political meddling and bureaucratic inertia, both public and private. The new effort seems to be taking pains to avoid that from the outset.
Three other changes in the approach to the new plan are notable. First, with a new city charter in 2002 and the advent of the strong mayor system, the city's neighborhoods are less like the separate fiefdoms of sparring city council chieftains and more like areas with common interests. The new plan will concern itself not only with downtown, as the 1998 plan did, but with other city neighborhoods as well.
Second, while certainly aware of the city's issues, Hartford's business leadership has grasped that its success - indeed, its fate - is tied to the capabilities and character of the capital area as a whole. In time of war and skyrocketing energy costs, it is impossible not to think globally and realize that acting locally means planning regionally. Hence, the Hartford 2010 plan will consider how to make sure Hartford's rising star is actually part of a coherent constellation of towns.
The third, most visible alteration between 1998 and 2006 is in the role played in development of the city and region by state government. For better but occasionally for worse, the most prominent changes in and around Hartford have come about because of former Gov. John G. Rowland's Six Pillars of Progress initiatives.
Those were announced in March 1998, and the original Greenberg Plan was conceived both to take advantage of some of them - in supporting new downtown housing development and a better parking system, for example - and to deflect others whose early iterations were sometimes awkwardly un-city-like, such as the first vision of the Convention Center and the downtown stadium, which eventually was built in East Hartford. This time, major building projects aren't likely to be in the offing.
The new plan will certainly pick up the old plan's unfinished business. Outstanding among the uncompleted projects are the one-way downtown streets and the parking, neither of which as yet deserve the term "system."
The one-way embarrassments still abound, from the trafficus interruptus of Market Street to the corking up of rebuilt Columbus Boulevard at Founders Bridge, to the fact that Asylum Street's basic message remains "Get out of town." Downtown streets must be made more comfortably walkable and instinctively navigable by drivers who may not know them. Two-waying is a basic necessity for the coexistence and comfort of residents, workers and visitors.
The parking authority has struggled back up to its feet after a period of embarrassment, but now needs to restore all those on-street parking spaces scoured away in the name of speeding traffic, and to develop tactics for encouraging (and in some places discouraging) off-street parking. Unless these things happen, attempts to plan stronger neighborhood and regional connections will certainly be slowed.
Since 1998, Hartford has succeeded in attracting more people to live downtown and in supporting homeownership in the wider city. These trends deserve every encouragement, especially since experience shows that having people living in a place is the first step toward having new businesses and jobs develop in that place.
The 1998 plan recommended seeding the state's housing-pillar money into individual projects in a circuit of investment around downtown. That was not always done. Some projects got subsidized more for their political connections than for their contribution to the place. It is arguable that downtown would have come back more quickly and strongly if the "Circuit Line" strategy, which was much more than a bus loop, had been fully carried out.
In any case, the lesson for Hartford 2010 planning is to think about the whole place first and then individual projects in their relation to the whole, in both the neighborhoods and the region. In particular, where and how affordable housing happens will be a key to the metropolitan area's health and growth.
The progress in the 71/2 years since the "Economic and Urban Design Action Strategy" was issued feels to have been sometimes glacial, sometimes breathtakingly fast. Certainly the cumulative change in the city and region in that time has been enormous. For the Hartford 2010 plan, if we learn from what happened in the last go-around, expectations can be pegged still higher.
Patrick Pinnell is an architect and planner and writes for The Courant's Place section. He helped author the 1998 "Economic and Urban Design Action Strategy" and is a member of Ken Green- berg's team for the Hartford 2010 plan.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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