Itís way easier to delegate than to take on every last responsibility, so rather than work on gaining muscle mass or weaning myself off chocolate, Iím creating a list of things I would like to see Hartford work on in the upcoming year. Here they are, in no particular order:
1.Make the Riverfront Accessible
After having my heart set on a lovely afternoon bicycle ride along the Connecticut River, my plans were thwarted. Having taken a trip to the paved path immediately following the storm a few weeks ago, I knew that it had been cleared. It would be plenty cold, but relaxing to ride in an area where cars would not be.
This is when I hit a snag.
Let me backtrack for a moment. Right after the recent snow storm, some folks decided to meet up at Riverside Park for a little harmless sledding. Although they had done a great job plowing the roadways in the park, the gate was closed. Most of us did not drive anyway, so it was no matter. A few of us decided to get to the park via the awesome riverside path, which would be most convenient to gain access to from the Riverfront Plaza, which is connected to Constitution Plaza, which is a fairly direct route for those of us coming through downtown. We would take the elevator from the Plaza to the area below. I had talked up the existence of an elevator a lot. We pushed the button and waited. And waited. After it became clear that the elevator was not slow but out of order, I trudged down the unshoveled steps without incident. But there was a bicycle that would have to be brought down. We could see the path below was clear, even if the stairs leading to it were not. The photo to the right is a dramatic reenactment of what ensued. The trip back up the steps was so fantastic that sharing a photo of that would just be tormenting readers who have not had this or similar opportunities, like hobbling up Denali with a busted ankle.
Today, I assumed the elevator would work. I mean, that other day was a Sunday afternoon, late, following a snowstorm. But today, when I attempted to use the elevator during the early afternoon on a weekday, I was greeted with a ďCLOSED FOR SEASONĒ sign. This made me realize that there were a few ways to deal with this.
(1) I could cautiously walk my bike down the stairs. This would probably result in me falling or losing control of the bike. The bike could be damaged, or even, though itís probably not a huge risk, wind up in the Connecticut River. Then, I would have to haul the bike back up the incline, or find an alternate route home. Since I had not planned on this being a trip requiring much exertion, riding home from Charter Oak Landing or the North Meadows was out of the question.
(2) I could let this be a lesson to me. After all, petite women have no business riding. This is reserved only for men, or at least taller women, who find it less awkward to heave a bicycle over their shoulders. I should defy science by growing taller, years after leaving adolescence; then, I should bulk up by taking steroids and pumping iron.
(3) I could get a folding bike for precisely these circumstances.
(4) I could glare at the men working next to the elevator and push my bike away while in a snit about a seasonal elevator.
I do not understand much about the mechanical needs for elevators, so it is plausible that when it gets too cold or snowy, it is better to shut them down than to have them be unreliable. There are other ways to improve access to the riverfront via downtown. Also, I am not an engineer, but what strikes me as stranger than a seasonal elevator is that the Mortensen Riverfront was designed without ramps leading all the way down. There are some at the top, a bunch of stairs, and then ramps toward the bottom. Was it simply not possible to build one ramp all the way up? Aside from my selfishness, I am wondering what people using crutches or wheelchairs are expected to do. The path along the river is really beautiful. Too bad it could not be more accessible.
I would like to see a strong effort to develop better employment opportunities for Hartford residents. These should largely be jobs where there is the ability to advance. Putting in an honest dayís work should be made more attractive than the street economy.
The popular thing to wish would happen in downtown is the opening of a grocery store. I want a shoe store. It would not have to be downtown. The important thing is that it be a place where I would want to shop. There are plenty of Payless Shoes around. Iím over that. I would like a DSW. I know that there is one in Manchester, which is fine if you can get there and/or are willing to deal with the congested roads around the mall. Judging from the footwear I see lots of business ladies wearing, a classy shoe store is needed. The bright white sneakers paired with knee-length skirts have to stop. Someone in the city should work toward making more stylish footwear a reality.
4.Quality of Life Taken Seriously
If I reported on murder and other violent crime, this blog would get so many more hits. The reason I tend to leave this stuff alone, besides that the commercial media are all over it, is because I do not personally deal with violent crime on a daily basis. I am grateful that this is not my reality; I also acknowledge that for some living in Hartford, simply staying unharmed and alive is a major quality of life issue for them.
What I generally encounter daily are a series of annoyances. Recently I noted how some people do not believe that laws about snow removal from sidewalks apply to them. As a follow-up, the snow did get removed from the apparently state-owned sidewalk between Laurel St and Forest on Capitol Avenue; however, the UHaul in this area never cleared its sidewalk. Until warmer temperatures melted the snow off, it remained there for nearly two weeks. Before this, I dealt with huge piles of leaves obstructing significant portions of bike lanes. Complaints about this seemed to go nowhere. Certain intersections are especially dangerous to cross, even if I am a good citizen and respect the law by waiting for the pedestrian signal that gives me permission to cross the street. I have been nearly hit countless times while crossing during a signal when, even if there was no signal, cars should not be taking right turns on red, as the posted sign indicates. I understand that some people need or prefer motor vehicles as their transportation, and thatís fine, so long as they respect my right to safely travel in other ways. As of the end of 2009, I do not feel that this is the case.
Also, can we get motorcycles off the sidewalks? Can the HPD Horse Unit pick up the manure?
5.A Solid POCD
The public input sessions for developing the POCD were great. People were able to voice their opinions appropriately, and most participating in the sessions showed an awareness that the city has made some mistakes in the past and should try different strategies in the future. I would really hate to see all of this positive momentum be thrown out, as happened with the Charter Revision in 2009 (minus the momentum, as there was none).
6.Be Unpopular and Crack Down on Clubs
Nobody should be surprised that the combination of youth, machismo, and excessive alcohol results in violence. As much as people like to freak out when gun violence occurs in and around the bars downtown, this type of problem is not specific to Hartford, nor should it be used to justify racism. Following the recent discharge of a weapon, which thankfully did not appear to lead to any injuries, the Courant Topix board was deluged with racist remarks. Hereís a sampling to turn your stomach:
No surprises here , stupid naggers
Truth_in_CT (12/28/2009, 9:57 AM )
Truth_in_CT and Bethanny are right on. It is at the point of ridiculous. The City of Hartford should ban hip hop from downtown clubs and not allow 93.7 to sponsor anything. Downtown is dying a slow death because of the black people who come here and act like animals. Black people are ruining downtown Hartford. HPD needs to put spot checks downtownÖ start searching peopleís cars and harrassing troublemakers. Make it so uncomfortable for them that they stay in the northend. Who the hell wants to go out for drinks and a good time and have to worry about gunfire?? Is it going to take another innocent bystander to get killed before the city gets serious about this problem. And why isnít 93.7 held responsible for the events they sponsor????
IHEARTHARTFORD - they donít bring weapons into the clubs. They keep them in their cars. Trouble is always outside the clubs in the parking lots.
DowntownJuniorBrown (12/28/2009, 12:13 PM )
Itís just pathetic, our capital city is going to become an absolute wasteland with no economic growth and nothing worth going to, because we as people are going to sit idly by and let the minority ďthugsĒ win out on this one. [...]
Truth_in_CT (12/28/2009, 1:56 PM )
noone - so Iím a moron for stating the truth? Thats the problem with liberals like yourself. You stick your head in the sand an ignore the obvious so the problem never gets fixed. Everytime there is a shooting downtown, its committed by blacks. Its behavior thats glorified in their culture.
DowntownJuniorBrown (12/28/2009, 7:02 PM )
DowntownJuniorBrown, you hit the nail on the head. hartford is quickly turning into another Detroit, and black people are the cause. Just look at places like Birmingham, Baltimore, Detroit, or Zimbabwe, and you will see the kind of society that black people make for themselves.[...]
cormorant2009 (12/28/2009, 8:20 PM )
Its not racist if one is stating the facts. Most of this violence is committed by black thug gang bangers. How is someone racist when they have to comment on the same type of stories all the time involving the same type of people. Fact is fact. African youth have an obsession with crime and terrorism. People cant even go to a club anymore and have a good time with out fear of being assassinated just because people are trying to earn a ďnicknameĒ in their gang.
1stAmmendment (12/28/2009, 8:30 PM )
Thereís no point trying to argue with racist morons, so I donít, but I think itís fair to say that bringing race into violence around clubs totally misses the point here. The combination of youth and alcohol is a dangerous one, and when guns enter into the equation, it becomes that much more so. Those who are relatively inexperienced with alcohol, do not know how to limit their drinking, or who are not creative enough to find something else to do with their time often drink to excess. The college binge drinking that gets a lot of ink happens in bars/clubs (along with in dorms and at parties). Youth often make much ado of nothing anyway, and this gets compounded when alcohol is introduced.
Shutting down the bar district is not what I am suggesting, but there should be no hesitation to shut down the establishments that do not comply with the law or with good sense. I know that there are clubs downtown that regularly serve alcohol to minors. Even with fake IDs, the average 18 year old does not look 21. Not even with lots of makeup and short skirts. Before someone accuses me of being in favor of Blue Laws, I will say that I have no real objection to a young adult having a glass of wine with dinner. Thatís drinking in moderation, and so long as they do not immediately get behind the wheel, will probably have no negative consequences. But when a person is seeking alcohol in an establishment thatís purpose is to serve alcohol, well, thatís a different matter. As much as younger adults may not want to hear it, some age-based laws exist for good reason.
Besides cracking down on the underage drinking, we should not hesitate to encourage club owners to implement better security methods. It may seem outrageous, but if metal detectors are permitted in public schools and in airports, there should be no hesitation to install metal detectors in places where alcohol and drug use are common. Does this stop people from stashing knives and guns in their cars? No, of course not. But instead of someone using a weapon inside of a club, he has to leave the premises. In that time, some would cool down. At least the argument would be moved away from the crowds of people, reducing how many are affected.
If it comes to forcing certain clubs to hire officers, so be it.
Convenience stores that are open past a certain hour have had to comply with new laws. Thereís precedent for making our city safer.
7.A Bookstore in Downtown
That one did not work before does not mean that one would not work now. In the past, there was not a heavy college or high school presence downtown. Now, thereís Capital Community College, Rensselaer, UConn Graduate Business Center, and soon, St. Joseph College School of Pharmacy. Thereís also Capitol Prep Magnet School and High School, INC. The University of Hartford also has some student housing downtown. Itís not atypical for there to be an off-campus bookstore near colleges, where students can buy and sell used textbooks.
8.Parking Fine Forgiveness
Itís not that we donít need the money. Itís not that I have a lot of sympathy for people who donít bother to read signs before parking. But I think that when the economy is this bad, alternatives to paying off parking tickets could be arranged.
Like what? Volunteer work would be a start. Thereís no shortage of litter and graffiti to be cleaned up. Thereís snow to shovel, leaves to rake, police horses to groom, dogs to walk, and soup kitchens to help in.
Simply paying the fine would be just fine too.
An upscale secondhand clothing store should happen. Iím thinking about a place where those who are starting their careers, reentering the workforce, or are just plain poor or thrifty could get nice-looking professional attire. The Salvation Army is really hit or miss for this category of clothing. Iím thinking about a place like Just Like New where decent cocktail dresses can be found alongside J. Crew sweaters and slacks from The Gap. There are a few great boutiques downtown, but people in the lower income bracket can not afford to shop there.
10.Entrance into 2010
There comes a time in every cityís life when it has to realize itís no longer a pup. It needs to mature, take responsibility, and get its act together.
One place to begin is with its web presence. The City of Hartford municipal website is stuck in 1997; Iíd insert a link, but donít want to give any readers a seizure. They still rely on a scrolling marquee. Words go from right to left at the top of the page. In the right hand column, press releases float from bottom to the top. Thereís a problem with the coding, so every few days thereís a pile-up of words ó an overlap that creates an unreadable mess. As a whole, there is no rhyme or reason to the siteís layout. Maybe some kids at one of the fancy technology elementary or high schools could take on the project of simply giving the site a streamlined, respectable new template.
After outsourcing the spring cleaning, paid professionals could deal with the content of the site. I recently, completely by accident, figured out that I could look up tax information. This is useful information! It should be made more prominent and residents should have a pay online option. After seeing how time-consuming it is to pay taxes in person in July, I understand why some people might just ďforgetĒ to pay rather than torment themselves; give them the option to pay online. Something else that might be useful would be to post city ordinances. Most people want to be law-abiding, but we can not really do that if we have no idea what sort of regulations that city has.
While highlighting and adding more useful content, Hartford should evaluate the whole 3-1-1 service. That they are paying attention to See Click Fix is a start. Checking their email (again, move into the new century) with regularity would be awesome. But even awesomer would be if the City provided residents with an online directory for services. For one, weíd have the ability to look up names, numbers, and email addresses 24/7, even on holidays. Secondly, even if some people like being routed through a third party, this might not always be an option if having a call center stops being a priority. If nothing else, Hartfordís 3-1-1 could follow the NYC model which has a follow-up form on its website so that one can check on the status of issues.
Another way Hartford can mature is by truly learning how to best use new technology. Instead of sending out a million press releases, the City could utilize Twitter for brief announcements. Save the emails with PDF attachments for messages that actually require paragraphs of content.
A lot of effort seems to be poured into attempts at damage control with the news media, which never really accomplishes that goal. What the city can control is the content and style of how it directly communicates with the rest of the world. Start by giving that municipal website a significant makeover, then move into utilizing new technologies.
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/.