1161 Main: Only One Part of the Downtown Blight Problem
July 10, 2010
The demolition of the structure at 1161 Main Street will only be a success if what happens afterward is meaningful, expedient, and future-thinking. While the promised attempt for the City to acquire and destroy this property has many gleeful, the absence of a strong and specific plan for the vacant plot is, at the least, eyebrow-raising. Mayor Segarra, in a press release said:
This is a critically important project. This is an economic development priority for a number of reasons. This is prime real estate that connects our Downtown with our neighborhoods. It is important to beautify all aspects of our city, our visitors deserve to look out of a hotel window and have a wonderful view of our glorious city, our arts community— like the neighboring Hartford Stage which is in the process of a multi million dollar renovation— deserves a neighboring entity that will contribute to the quality of life of Hartford. The reasons to act now are plenty. I can’t think of a single reason to wait any longer.
The 1161 property has been considered an eyesore, which it surely is, but the blight extends beyond this building. This section of Main Street is an example of some of the worst design decisions of the 20th century, which a poorly conceived and maintained roadway. It’s the spot where motorists clog the streets to exit from or enter I-84. Pedestrians wishing to travel along this section of Main are forced to play Frogger with impatient drivers, as the crosswalks are seemingly nonexistent. Malfunctioning WALK signals are a common complaint.
The Future of Hartford
This is shameful. Beyond providing a lovely view for patrons of Hartford Stage or travelers staying in area hotels, considering the needs of the residents who more frequently have an intimate relationship with this area should be a priority. For one, Capital Preparatory Magnet School is on one side of this mess. This year-round school allows students to take up to 60 college credits. Capital Community College, where many of the Capital Prep Magnet School students take college credit courses, is on the other side of the Main-Trumbull Parking Lot Sprawl of Bleakness. In the name of safety, some might suggest the students just take the bus between the two institutions, but given the proximity to one another, this makes no sense: it makes no sense to ask youth to be physically lazy nor to pay bus fare in order to arrive at a destination that is within a few blocks, yet with the way the streets in this section are designed, it’s also completely understandable why this would happen.
That is just one population affected by poor development choices from days gone by. The Central Business District needs to be
reconnected with the Northern section of Downtown, but “complete streets” policies must be implemented for any of this to work. Hartford, in its tiny square footage, is an incredible walkable city on paper, but in action, bad infrastructure prevents a number of people from independently getting to where they are going.
Use the aerial view on an online map program to see what I mean. The H.B. Davis building, while neglected and blighted like many other structures in the city, is not architecturally hideous (like the Capitol West building on Myrtle Street, which is a shell of Soviet Bloc-style architecture) and only one small part of the equation regarding what must be dealt with to restore Downtown. So, before we applaud ourselves too heartily for finally getting around to knocking down another building, let’s devise some specific plans for this plot and beyond. Claiming a general need for “economic development” is not enough.
Ideas for Community Development
•new/used bookstore with a sizable section devoted to college textbooks. There are colleges downtown. Let’s support that!
•a community garden dedicated to be used by school-aged youth. For justification, it can easily be woven into the curriculum as a hands-on lesson in science.
•Goodwill or Salvation Army-type store. Neither have stores in Hartford, yet the need for inexpensive clothing for the entire family exists. Such stores encourage sustainability (not buying new items unnecessarily) and making better financial choices.
•a new/used sports shop. With proximity to Heaven, this could do well if the skateboarding department were highlighted.
We do not need more hair/nail salons, fast food joints (including Dunkin Donuts), or bars. At the same time, we do not need overly expensive restaurants. We have all of those things already. Before anything else gets demolished, the City needs to develop a specific plan and present it to residents so that we can help shape Hartford. Ask the students in this area what they would most benefit from and take that into consideration.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.