A strong, resonant capital city can telegraph the state's image and competitiveness nationwide. It matters because, despite negatives that warrant serious and coherent attention, Hartford's positives are still genuinely breathtaking.
Was this apparent to the Cundari Group - consultants paid $200,000 to come up with a new Hartford marketing campaign to raise awareness, interest and participation? Their preliminary conclusion - that it's all about "events, events, events" - may reflect the client's preoccupation with "high-value segments" of the market or, as MetroHartford Alliance CEO Oz Griebel put it, "the need to attract and retain younger people. ... need for a safe, interesting, entertaining city ... to appeal to that demographic."
All that is good, but it is not sufficient. In a half-hour presentation, not one of these seven words was uttered: Twain, Colt, Bushnell, Atheneum, attractions, historic or iQuilt.
The mosaic of attributes that shape our senses of place, past and community are complex. We pay too little attention to the qualities that make this place special; too much attention to big projects and wannabe schemes aimed at becoming something other than what we are.
A decade ago, as I was trying to inspire reverence for things like the Isham-Terry House, Old North Cemetery, Coltsville and the Butler-McCook House, I wrote a Valentine to this place. It goes like this:
I love Hartford because it is a storied and deep-rooted place with layers of history and accomplishment and dozens of outstanding natural and cultural attractions.
I love Hartford because it's small and manageable yet contains the institutions and amenities we expect in larger cities.
I love Hartford because it is the heart and soul of Connecticut, a state with 169 towns, each with its own great narrative and local treasures to show and tell.
I love Hartford because a river runs through it. Our American Heritage River tumbles into Long Island Sound through some of the best scenery on earth.
I love Hartford because its people are diverse, resourceful and persevering.
I love Hartford because the cost of living, by East Coast urban standards, is low.
I love Hartford because it is unpretentious, quietly elegant and dignified.
I love Hartford because it is the capital of a state that was one of the original 13 Colonies.
I love Hartford because we practically invented "government by consent of the governed," contributing disproportionately to the formation of the American idea.
I love Hartford because its artistic and literary legacy is awesome.
I love Hartford because it is day-tripping distance from New York, Boston and the best mountains and ocean side destinations in the East.
I love Hartford because American ingenuity - Yankee and otherwise - was born and achieved its first flowering here.
I am glad we are promoting the city. I know we have fabulous and diverse restaurants and entertainment options. I hope young people make the choice I did to make a life here.
The stars are aligned. The leaders of our cultural organizations, the political class, a mayor who "gets" the culture and heritage piece, and an inspirational new direction at the state's culture and tourism agency, plus the iQuilt project, provide a transformational moment we should indulge.
Colin McEnroe observed that "possessiveness and lack of cooperation among major institutions" has been an impediment. They need to realize that "their destiny is yoked together."
It brings to mind the words of poet and place maker Wendell Berry, who observes that "a city and its region can define themselves as one community ... simply by asking: 'What can we do for each other'?"
Thank God we have so much that inspires care, joy, imagination and wonder - inspiration that eludes us if we don't celebrate it often - even market it - with the reverence and passion it deserves.
Bill Hosley of Enfield is a historical consultant and principal of Terra Firma Northeast.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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