Livable & Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative: Part Two of Three
By Kerri Provost
June 28, 2011
The perennial complaint, and one I heard made specific to this initiative, is that brainstorming and planning have been happening forever, but little measurable progress is being made. Some of this is sheer impatience with the rate at which it takes for change to occur, and some is with how work that can be done in ten hours is stretched out to forty.
A combination of paper trail and vocal residents has to exist. These meetings do contain both elements, but more people need to get involved. The Monday evening meeting was not large enough to warrant a microphone.
According to the LSNI meetings, it appears that it is mostly the City holding itself accountable. That’s a start; it also requires we trust the City to do the right thing.
At these four meetings, the City of Hartford made available copies of the One City, One Plan Scorecard, which was published in April of this year. This document of 30 pages ranks various parts of the goals; each item is scored as making “significant progress,” “progress,” or “future year activity.” They claim to have made significant progress on a handful of items, but provided no additional commentary that would show what this looks like. So, while the City says to be making significant progress in supporting brownfield remediation, I have no idea, just from looking at this scorecard, what exactly this means. This should not detract from the fact that progress is being made, but those putting together such documents must understand that the average resident, even when approving of the job that politicians are doing, is going to be somewhat cynical about the same politicians. Show us what it means to make significant progress in supporting the Healthy Hartford initiative.
Another show of accountability is in the quarterly anti-blight report, which is required by the anti-blight ordinance. Copies of this report were also made available at the meeting. Two documents were readily available on the City site, citing blighted properties from 2009, but that was it. Will this quarterly report follow the same trend of being made available once or twice and then disappearing?
The Neighborhood Conditions Report (”A Catalog of our Anti-Blight Activity”), dated 31 March 2011, is nearly 60 pages, and summarizes actions taken against properties; there are also several pages devoted to properties simply being monitored for blight. Or, I think that’s what it means since “active,” “working,” and “monitoring” are in the footer of every page. No explanation is included for what each of these categories means. These were also not described during the meetings.
The City promises to reach “success through accountability” via a few other measures: a quarterly Capital Improvement Program report, monthly HartStat meetings, and a transparent all funds budget.
But at the meeting for the central district, it was clear that time spent talking with constituents would be valuable for both accountability and simply being informed.
Programs and Projects
“Four components and four districts for two years” was how the LSNI was broken down. The neighborhoods are lumped together by geography: North (Northeast, Upper Albany, and Clay Arsenal), Central (Downtown, Sheldon/Charter Oak, South Green, and Frog Hollow), West (Blue Hills, West End, Parkville, and Asylum Hill), and South (Behind the Rocks, Barry Square, South West, and South End). The four components include the Blight Strike Force, infrastructure improvements & community development projects, programmatic alignment, and performance measurement.
The infrastructure improvements were items identified by OCOP and CIP, so most items named were not news. To show what is happening and in the planning stages, several full color maps were made available. One map shows the streets proposed to be paved for the period between early April and the end of June 2011. This information felt dated, as most of these streets should have been completed by the time of the meeting. There was no information on the map for streets to be paved at later times during this year.
More useful was the map showing streetscape improvement projects, as it was color-coded by phase: concept, design, under construction, and completed. The Farmington Avenue streetscape is split between being in concept and under construction. At the meeting, the delay this work was explained, as the MDC has had to deal with water main issues in the same location. A design has been completed for most of Capitol Avenue, over half of Albany Avenue, and about one-third of Wethersfield Avenue.
Infrastructure improvement also includes sidewalk repair, street tree replacement, and park improvements.
Some of the other district improvements include traffic calming measures, improving Pulaski Mall, fixing the fencing around Barnard Park, and tree stump removal.
Part of the LSNI deals with something called “demonstration areas,” which, it seems, are supposed to demonstrate what renewal can look like…eventually. These sections within each district are granted such honor due to the number of 311, 911, and calls for service, concentration of blight as appearing in the blighted building quarterly report, reports from health, housing code, and fire code inspections. Through the aggregate project map, I learned that I live inside of the Lawrence-Ward Demonstration Area– a somewhat misleading designation as this actually includes most of Frog Hollow. Some of the items planned for this area are needed — sustainable trash receptacles, adding trees and shrubs, better walkability, dealing with the Putnam/Russ intersection, and fixing the Maria Sanchez playground — while others, like eliminating one way streets which were originally designed to discourage the street economy, seem questionable. Nowhere in this does the City mention speed bumps; this is a neighborhood with lots of children and lots of speeding motorists.
The Bartholomew Demonstration Area includes extending Bartholomew Avenue; Alden-Eaton Demonstration Area will add streetlamps and repair pavement and sidewalks. Some of the changes in store for the Sigourney Demonstration Area include “reevaluating barriers” around the Sigourney Square Park and restoring two-way streets. A concession stand would be improved in the Granby-Blue Hills Demonstration Area.
Energy is no doubt behind all of this, but some residents have been skeptical about how effective this will be, or how necessary yet one more initiative is to the city’s success.
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/.