In what might be considered a blow to the city's inferiority complex, a recent national survey ranked Hartford among the top college towns in the country. Bridgeport was similarly honored.
Hartford was ranked ahead of Portland, Ore., Denver and Providence. Bridgeport finished ahead of Ann Arbor, Durham, N.C., and New Haven.
How did Connecticut's two largest cities outdistance so many certifiably cool academic settings? There is a simple answer. The researchers looked at the metropolitan regions, not just the land within the urban boundaries. Their findings argue for the premise that when Greater Hartford presents itself as a region, good things can happen.
The American Institute for Economic Research of Great Barrington, Mass., looked at 360 U.S. metro areas, divided them according to size and then assembled data on student concentration, restaurants, cultural establishments, unemployment, cost of living, accessibility, research capacity and entrepreneurial activity.
In mid-sized metro areas, Hartford ranked third, just behind San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas. That's because this region includes the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Wesleyan University in Middletown and a host of other colleges, along with numerous cultural institutions, restaurants of all kinds and internship opportunities with major corporations. Bridgeport ranked second among small metros, with Greater Bridgeport including Fairfield, Stamford and Norwalk.
Hartford keeps landing on lists of "poorest cities" and "troubled cities" in part because of its ancient boundaries. Hartford comprises only 18 square miles and is home to less than 12 percent of the region's 1.1 million people. Many of the region's poorest residents live in the city.
But what if the city comprised the region? What if the region were the government entity? Hartford would jump from the bad lists to — as with the college town survey — the good lists. Government would probably be cheaper and more efficient. There would be more connectivity, which could lead to more social and commercial activity.
Though regionalism still is a hard sell in the Land of Steady Habits, the college survey at least suggests we should have the discussion. There might be something in it for us.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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