When Alan Green became executive director of the Hartford Housing Authority in late 2007, one of his long-term goals was the redevelopment of the decaying Bowles Park and Westbrook Village housing projects. Though he got the ball rolling, he was slowed, and in December forced to retire, by health issues.
His successor, Annette Sanderson, is on the case and "very aggressively" pursuing the redevelopment of the postwar projects, in partnership with the state.
This is very good news, with two caveats.
GRAB THE CHANCE TO REBUILD
The first involves the tenants. Perhaps because of the uncertainty surrounding Mr. Green's health, some tenants say they aren't sure what's going on. Here's their answer: The buildings are shot, many are now uninhabitable, and all will be coming down in the next couple of years, if things go as expected. Both Ms. Sanderson and authority chairman Marilyn Rossetti say the tenants will be involved in the planning and will have whatever assistance they need.
The second point is that this is a remarkable opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the northwestern part of the city. The plan and design are critical. The region's best planners should be vying for the work.
Westbrook Village and Chester Bowles Park are brick barracks-style townhouses built on two parcels of about 70 acres each that abut the University of Hartford. Unlike the large federally funded housing projects once associated with the city, these are among relatively few state-financed projects, originally built for moderate-income tenants. The projects date from 1950 and have been home to many successful families over the years.
But the buildings are now well past their useful lives, and only 38 percent of the 770 units in both projects are occupied. The first priority is the successful transition of the remaining tenants to new housing, or temporary housing until they can return to the new development.
INCLUDE TRANSIT, COFFEE SHOPS
Done with verve and imagination, the new development can change the area for the better, even change the image of the city. For example, one way to remake Westbrook Village would be to create a "university village" connected to the University of Hartford. Such a development, similar to the "Storrs Center" project being built at the University of Connecticut's main campus, could include mixed-income housing, restaurants, coffee shops, stores and university facilities. It could take advantage of the rail corridor that traverses the property for bike and -- someday -- light-rail transit.
Such a development would give the university a presence on Albany Avenue and a connection to its Handel Performing Arts Center and the avenue's business corridor, which the university has helped nurture. The school would have more non-driving options for students, and more of an urban feel.
New housing at Westbrook and Bowles could offer housing to families who want to send their children to the several new elementary and high schools in the area, or to older university alumni who would like to retire near the campus.
Ms. Rossetti said -- refreshingly -- that the process will be open, thoughtful and non-political. Ms. Sanderson is anxious to move ahead as well. Like Mr. Green, she is a lawyer who grew up in public housing in Hartford and dearly wants to make it work again.
We would be remiss in not wishing Mr. Green well. Empathetic, methodical, intelligent and witty, Mr. Green kept the housing authority on an even keel when the Perez administration at city hall was in turmoil. He initiated the redevelopment of Nelton Court, the last of the old federal projects, and executed a much-needed makeover of the authority's scattered site housing. All look forward to seeing him at the Westbrook/Bowles ribbon-cutting.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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