Hartford, New England's Rising Star, needs to shine more brightly.
The Connecticut Convention Center is now open, the Hilton Hotel
has been transformed with a $30 million interior face lift, the new
Marriott will open within weeks, and almost 1,000 new apartments
or condos are occupied or under construction. The Science Center
will break ground later this year and other developments are moving
All of this development means thousands of new visitors and residents
coming into downtown Hartford. As should go without saying, these
people need to feel safe walking the streets at night.
For that to happen, downtown needs better lighting. Now, major sections
of downtown are dark or shadowy. This doesn't encourage pedestrian
activity, and it detracts from the splendor of many downtown buildings.
State Street, Central Row, and
State House Square will be a gateway between the convention center
and the rest of downtown. I walked it on two recent nights, and
it was very poorly lit. Decorative streetlights in the area were
not even turned on. If it were not for the façade
lights on the Old State House, which turn off by midnight and light
just two sides of the building, the whole area would be dark.
Main Street from Capitol Avenue to Asylum Street is well-lit for
automobiles, but the street lights don't continuously illuminate
the sidewalks, which creates dark spots and shadows between light
fixtures. A bright light shines on Alexander Calder's Stegosaurus
in Burr Mall, between City Hall and the Wadsworth Atheneum, but the
remainder of the mall is dark.
Visitors leaving the Morgan Street garage confront areas of shadows
if they walk up Morgan Street to Main Street, or if they walk along
Market Street toward State Street.
People who come downtown by bus
or train are also in the dark. Walk out of Union Station and the
street and parking lots are cast in shadows. The corner of Spruce
and Church street is in total darkness. On the Union Place side,
there isn't a single light on the façade
of the beautiful historic brownstone station building.
Other areas are similarly shadowed. Along Church Allen Street and
High streets, and at the corner of Asylum and Ford, and there are
large parking lots with no lighting that create large open fields
of darkness. Trumbull Street between the Hilton and Main Street is
dark, making the walk to the parking lots north of the highway uninviting.
Even the parking lot for 55 On the Park, the former SNET building
that is now apartments, is designed with no lighting.
Across the street, Bushnell Park, a beautiful park that could offer
a romantic stroll or short walk to the Bushnell Theater, is poorly
lit and uninviting. Yes, the walkways in the park are lined with
lights, but they are so sparse that when standing at one end of the
walkway it's difficult to see through to the other end.
Lighting plays a major role in people's perception of safety. A
well-lit street feels alive and safe, while a poorly lit street cast
in shadows and spots of darkness feels abandoned and threatening.
Lack of lighting creates an environment that is more conducive to
crime then a well-lit area. Poor lighting can no longer be acceptable
in downtown Hartford.
The city needs to study the lighting patterns in public spaces downtown
and develop a plan to improve it. Property owners, including the
owners of parking lots, need to be part of the solution.
Office buildings can add new lights. Owners of the many beautiful
historic buildings that exist throughout downtown should consider
up-lighting the front facades of their buildings, both accentuating
the historic architecture and providing additional lighting, as has
been done at the former G. Fox building, 960 Main St. and the Old
State House. The lighting should stay on late enough to allow for
a safe walk after the restaurants and bars close.
Lighting needs to be designed to accommodate pedestrians, not just
automobiles. That means that illumination from light fixtures needs
to overlap to avoid creating shadows and dark spots between fixtures.
If we want the future of downtown to be bright, it's time we turned
on the lights.
Donald Poland is the executive director for the Neighborhoods of
Hartford Inc., and vice president of the Connecticut Chapter of the
American Planning Association.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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