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Grand 1912 Plan Helped Shape Hartford


April 10, 2013

Hartford's iQuilt plan, which focuses on the arts and cultural institutions around Bushnell Park, is one of many land-use master plans and studies produced for the city. The most prominent of these plans is arguably the 1912 Carrere and Hastings plan.

Titled, exhaustively, "A Plan of the City of Hartford, in relation to the rectification of the present plan and the development of an extension of the City of Hartford on comprehensive lines of order and harmony, with recommendations," this thorough document made recommendations for building heights and setbacks, street widths, traffic planning, housing, parks and playgrounds.

Although this was Hartford's first formal plan, the city had been developing in a positive way, being described in the document's foreword as a city with "beautiful homes, charming avenues, notable banks and prosperous industrial institutions." Nevertheless, Hartford's leaders felt that complacency was to be avoided and that there was a need to plan for the city's development.

Carrere and Hastings was one of the top architecture and planning firms in the nation; in 1909 it completed plans for the grand Beaux-Arts New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. The firm was also one of the best connected in New York, counting politicians, industrialists and socialites among its clients. The fact that Hartford was able to attract and engage a firm of this stature is indicative of the city's prestige at the turn of the last century.

The plan was primarily prepared by Carrere and Hastings partner John Merven Carrere. Carrere had a deep interest in the organization and beautification of urban areas, and was largely credited with developing the city planning movement in the United States. In addition to his work in Hartford, he collaborated on city plans for Cleveland, Baltimore and Grand Rapids, Mich.

As was Carrere's preference, Hartford's plan was executed in the style of the City Beautiful movement, with grand boulevards, monumental buildings and classically designed plazas. Many of the recommendations were never implemented, including the conversion of Elm Street into a wide parkway, a new park near the intersection of Asylum and Farmington avenues, new plazas adjacent to the train station and across from the municipal building, and the continuation of Trumbull Street through Bushnell Park.

Other suggested improvements also proved elusive, such as the burying of electrical lines, which is still not complete, and connections to the Connecticut River. Carrere echoed the sentiments of parks superintendent George Parker that "Hartford was not on the Connecticut River but near the Connecticut River." This frustration spurred Riverfront Recapture to complete the connections many decades later, in the 1990s.

Elements of the plan that were immediately embraced by Hartford's leaders included constructing the municipal building on Main Street, new streets and boulevards and an aggressive street tree planting program. John Carrere had especially eloquent words concerning street trees, stating that "there is hardly a single feature of a city development that is more important, whether in appearance or in the comfort and pleasure of the inhabitants of a city, than the proper planting and maintenance of street trees."

Today the Knox Foundation is implementing this vision, having planted more than 1,000 trees in the city during 2012 alone.

The plan for Hartford was to be John Carrere's last. He was tragically killed in 1912 at age 53 in a streetcar accident, as he and his family were planning a recuperative vacation in Europe.

Hartford would be a far different (and I would say lesser) city today if none of the Carrere and Hastings recommendations had been implemented or if they all had been. Such is the nature of planning.

Phil Barlow is a planner and landscape architect who practices in New Britain with TO Design.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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