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Hartford's Urban Plan: Wider Focus, Shorter Term

May 10, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

It used to be called Hartford 2020, but now the plan to bring urban designer Ken Greenberg back for another look is called Hartford 2010 - a sign, Mayor Eddie A. Perez says, that this isn't going to be a lot of long-term talk.

"It's not 2020, don't worry," Perez told business leaders Tuesday morning. "It's not going to be a planning exercise."

Greenberg - whose 1998 study created a discussion about the viability, accessibility and future of downtown Hartford - was in town Tuesday to announce a new project that will focus on the city as a whole.

Speaking at a breakfast presented by the MetroHartford Alliance, Greenberg said a city's success is in its dexterity.

"The city will succeed or will not succeed based on its ability to, as I like to say, play chords instead of single notes," he said. "To put the pieces together."

To that end, Greenberg will conduct a 10-month, $250,000 study that will culminate with recommendations on how to better connect the various development projects underway in the city with each other, and with the suburbs. The fee is being paid by the city and a broad spectrum of businesses and community organizations.

R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, president and CEO of the alliance, told the audience the point of the exercise was in large part to figure out how to "take advantage of the extraordinary investment the state has made" in the city, such as the Connecticut Convention Center and the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration.

The goal, Griebel said, is to "leverage that investment in the immediate downtown for the benefit of the neighborhoods," and to connect those neighborhoods to each other and to the city's suburbs.

In 1998, Greenberg's former firm, Urban Strategies Inc., was hired to study the downtown's future and develop an action plan. He suggested that the downtown should have more residents, smaller independent retail shops, attractive street environments with shade trees and public benches, and more services - a supermarket, for example.

He also suggested better downtown transportation, bikeways and ways to link downtown with its surrounding neighborhoods.

But where the 1998 plan was downtown-centric, Hartford 2010 has its eyes set on the entire city.

Perez, who has worked with Greenberg before, said the planner has a knack for identifying the "low-hanging fruit - the things we could do in three years, the things we could do in four years."

Greenberg and his team will work with members of the city's development services department as he develops his recommendations.

Greenberg, Perez said, is good at small tweaks to big plans - such as adding streetscapes and public spaces where the city's staff might not. "We've been thinking small; he'll make us think big," Perez said.

Greenberg agreed.

"When you're involved in a step-by-step, daily basis, you sometimes don't grasp the significance of each of those pieces, how they might tie together, or where they're leading you," he said. "Our role is to step back from the specificity to portray all those things as a pattern in time, as something that's emerging, and then to identify the things that are missing from the pattern that could make a huge difference."

As for the name, 2010 gets the point across much better, Greenberg said.

"If this were a planning study, it would have said 2020, but this was to send a message that this isn't just a planning study," he said. "It's going to have some tangible outcomes in a short period of time. ... The real focus is on what we can do in the next [few] years."

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.
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