At a candidate forum in the spring, all of Hartford's mayoral hopefuls were asked for their vision for the city. Only one candidate, state Rep. Art Feltman, had an even remotely satisfying answer: He saw Hartford becoming "an exciting comeback city." But Mr. Feltman was trounced in the Democratic primary and has dropped out of the race.
Where is Hartford going?
The need for a vision was one of the helpful observations made last week by a 10-member panel of urban experts brought to the city by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit that specializes in land-use policy. The ULI team was summoned by the city and MetroHartford Alliance, the region's business and economic development group.
The panel was a follow-up to the Hartford 2010 study completed earlier in the year by a team headed by Toronto planner Ken Greenberg, and work done by the city's planning department.
Panel members spent a week studying three neighborhoods immediately north and west of downtown, areas that had been identified for their development potential in Greenberg's plan.
But the panel members appeared to take a step back as they studied the city. They didn't get a clear sense of where the city was headed, and so concluded: "The time is right to develop a collective vision for the city."
We agree. If Hartford could agree on where it wanted to go, the steps along the path would be better illuminated. One suggestion from the panel: Build on the city's strong medical presence.
Perhaps the most startling suggestion from the panel was to drop the idea for a new sports arena and instead revamp the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum. The panel was getting a broader point. Hartford should put aside the "silver bullet" big projects it's so often fallen for in the past and instead focus on filling in the empty spaces that cover too much of downtown. For example, the successful Union Place entertainment district ought to have more buildings and fewer surface parking lots. The Coltsville project needs to get back on the rails.
There ought to be a commission or other entity coordinating this development with the state, as this page has argued.
The panel also put forward a bold suggestion for a linear park across the North End, from the intersection of Albany Avenue and Main Street east to the Connecticut River. That's a nifty idea and recalls the "rain of parks" proposal a century ago of surrounding downtown with parks and parkways.
On the other hand, there are areas of the report we'd like to see further developed. There is little mention of the volatile tax situation facing the city. The panel's housing projections may be overly optimistic.
Nonetheless, the ULI panel has provided a most useful service. Hartford needs a collective vision, and achieving that vision should be a top priority of whoever is elected mayor in November.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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