Region Agenda, Part 6: Connections Empower Metro Area
January 02, 2010
A half-century ago, Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. moved out of Hartford, to Bloomfield. The world has since changed. If Hartford were to lose a major employer today, the company might just as easily move to Des Moines, Atlanta or Austin.
Since most of the people who work at Hartford's major companies live in the suburbs, it follows that the suburbs have a vital interest in the health of the city, and vice versa. As residents of Greater Hartford think more about becoming a metropolitan region, an area in a position to gain another major employer, it's good to remember that Hartford must be a vibrant center, not a hole in the doughnut. Virtually every successful metro in the country has a lively city at its core.
Hartford's plan of conservation and development for the next 10 years, now being refined after public meetings in November, calls for "regional connectivity." How to achieve this connection?
Yale political science professor Douglas Rae, who has served as New Haven's chief administrative officer, was asked at a program this fall what the biggest obstacle was for city-suburb cooperation in Connecticut. "Cost," he replied. Cities are hugely expensive to run and suburbs don't want to, or cannot, share the burden.
Hartford would appear to prove his point. The city's budget has gone from $422.4 million in 2002-03 to $535 million this fiscal year, a rate of increase that cannot possibly be sustained for much longer. This city and its unions are going to have to reinvent the workforce, as many private companies have done, and train fewer people to do more kinds of work. The city must also embrace sharing services with the region.
City government is at least momentarily beset with uncertainty surrounding Mayor Eddie Perez's future. Mr. Perez is awaiting trial this coming spring on corruption charges. Though this is embarrassing and raises some trust issues among other municipal leaders, the city continues to function. Whatever happens to Mr. Perez, there are long-term opportunities for city-suburb cooperation that can increase the prosperity of the region.
Transportation: The most obvious is transit, and transit-oriented development. Connection by transit is so important to successful regions that many have taxed themselves to pay for it. Hartford has two major projects in the pipeline, the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line and the Hartford- New Britain busway.
It's essential that the region support both projects. Both projects will encourage travel to the city and set the stage for transit-oriented development in the Union Station area. New housing as well as new clubs and restaurants in the Union Place entertainment district can attract the young adults who have been fleeing the state in droves. Suburbs and city can work together to create bicycle trails into the city from all sides, another amenity young (and older) workers find very attractive.
Economic development:City and suburbs can work together more closely on economic development. In the 19th century, the Connecticut Valley was lined with gun factories. Today it has, among other things, major hospitals. The MetroHartford Alliance is pushing to transfer some of the research at these institutions to market. The region could push for a new medical research center in Hartford.
In well-functioning metropolitan areas such as Portland, Ore., the distinction between city and suburb is beginning to fade. That seems an impossible goal for Greater Hartford, but let's start working together and see what happens.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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