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Plenty Of Community Strength To Build Upon

ELIZABETH BRAD NOEL

June 11, 2008

I still remember vividly having my purse snatched as I walked home from Hartford's old Weaver High. I was pretty upset by the time I reached home. But the phone soon rang. A resident on the other side of Keney Park had seen the thief throw my wallet into the trash. The caller rescued it and said, "Come get your wallet. The money is gone, but your ID and everything else seem intact."

That was a long time ago. We have lived in Hartford for more than 40 years but I don't think the decency of most residents or their concern for each other has changed notwithstanding the furor of the last week and a half.

I grew up in suburban West Hartford, with little diversity until I entered Hall High. My husband and I spent two years living in Japan, and another traveling through Asia, the Middle East and Europe before settling down to raise a family the first several years in rural New Hartford. I cherish all these varied experiences, but we soon realized that urban America was where we wanted to be. The idea of spending long hours in a car to shop, to take the children to extracurricular activities and to enjoy the cultural riches of a city just didn't appeal to me.

And it still doesn't. I spent 25 years as guidance counselor and chairwoman of counseling at Weaver High and Fox Middle Schools. We didn't move out of Hartford when I retired in 1992 because one of my greatest joys is seeing former students and reminding them, "Mrs. Noel is still on Ridgefield Street."

We are supporters of the arts: music, theater and opera. Where else besides an expensive weekend in New York can one enjoy such riches? Hartford has more park space per resident than any city in the country, and we live across the street from Keney Park. Our street boasts a new sign, "Welcome to Ridgefield Street Historic District," thanks to the efforts of the neighborhood block group and Neighborhoods of Hartford.

The prominent reporting of recent Hartford events projects a very different picture of our city. I can understand Police Chief Daryl Roberts' frustration with the first news of speeding cars hitting a pedestrian on Park Street, before he learned of the immediate 911 calls to report the accident and indicate details of the cars involved. Those callers reacted as promptly as the stranger across the park who saw a thief's furtive behavior, fished my wallet out of the trash and called me, those many years ago.

Yes, criminal behavior has unfortunately increased in cities as well as suburbs (remember Cheshire, for example). But we must be careful not to exaggerate the changes.

Cities should experience a natural renaissance in this age of energy shortages and traffic congestion. If we live closer together and concentrate on building positive community bonds, our lives will be richer.

Neighborhood schools and branch libraries need to be recognized as extensions of our neighborhoods. Police community service officers need to reach out to their communities. Quality of life issues are the first line of defense. Address the issues of un-mowed lawns, unregistered cars and unpainted houses before they further destroy civic pride and property values.

The warmer weather we have been having gets us outdoors. Take the time to walk your neighborhood, visit your neighborhood branch library and greet those you see. Take part in some of the many activities that make our parks a valuable resource. And, if need be, use your cellphone to call 911 to report criminal behavior or 311 to report noise violations, properties in disrepair or other activities that threaten the quality of life.

Above all, let's not despair. The colors and accents of the city's population have changed in our four decades here, but it's still overwhelmingly a city of caring people.

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.
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