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Bedford Looks Good, For Now

COMMENTARY by Stan Simpson
July 16, 2005

A blanket frames the broken porch window on the first floor of a Bedford Street apartment building.

It's been this way for months.

Anna Montalvo, 25, says her window - damaged by a BB-gun - was just one of the reasons she and her three children moved out recently. There was also that little problem with "big ass rats" eating the kids' cereal and the heat not working in the winter; so the warmth from a stove had to suffice.

A similar heating problem caused a fire in a unit across from Montalvo's, when curtains ignited. The view from 18-20 Bedford St. would never be confused with that of a penthouse - an outhouse, maybe.

This week, the city finally cleaned up one of its most neglected, filthiest, drug-riddled streets. The dozen or more sneakers that hung from electrical wires - the cops say it's a indicator that drugs are sold on the block though residents say it's more the reflection of mischievous kids - were removed. The sofas, mattresses and appliances dumped on the sidewalks and on a vacant lot were also hauled away. Trash that blocked street gutters was swept away.

An alternate-side-of-the street parking ordinance was re-enforced so the street could be cleaned. Cars were towed. The L-shaped strip that is Bedford Street, barely two-tenths of a mile long and peppered with brick multi-family buildings, is back on line as a city-sanctioned street - for now.

Bedford is a story about a block - one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest sections of one of the poorest cities in America - where everyone gave up.

Tenants blame the landlords. Property managers blame the tenants. The city didn't give a rat's damn.

"I think they should just close this street off. It's a living hell here," Montalvo said. "The kids are going to grow up and be what they see here. That's why I took my kids out of here because they were already starting to act like, you know, little ghetto kids. ...No."

The Albany Avenue entrance to Bedford Street is framed by a package store on one side and the former Frontline Café night club, which the federal government recently busted for being part of a international drug ring, on the other.

Hence, it's not unusual to see people on the street drinking hooch, collecting soda cans in a shopping carriage, gettin' high, dealing drugs, and engaging in shootouts. That's reality. And why it was so easy to write off Bedford Street.

Yet, you also see young folks smiling while riding their bicycles or playing at the makeshift hoop. That's reality too. Impressionable kids growing up in deplorable conditions. They're worth fighting for.

I blasted City Hall last week for abdicating its leadership in maintaining Bedford Street, particularly at a time when Hartford is trying to market itself as a city in turnaround mode.

It's only appropriate this week to recognize city efforts - superficial as they may be - for demonstrating what can happen when resources are marshaled for a common purpose.

"I think it's for show," says Ivelisse Lugo, 19. She's the mother of two kids and believes she may be expecting again. Her experience on Bedford echoed that of Montalvo's. Rats, roaches, malfunctioning refrigerators and toilets.

"I've been here for 12 years," Lugo said. "It makes me feel like they don't care. Why should I? ...Treat us like humans, not like animals."

Property manager Yisroel Ross, who manages eight of the buildings there, says bad tenants are to blame for Bedford's plight because they're irresponsible and incorrigible. He says he is weeding out the hard heads.

"You wouldn't believe it, but we have a guy cleaning here every day," Ross said. "When you come back the next morning, it looks like we didn't even clean. Matter of fact, while the guy is cleaning, bags come flying out the window."

John McGrane, the assistant director in the city's public works department, says everyone bares responsibility for what became of Bedford.

"It shouldn't have been allowed to get to that point," he said. "It should have been caught sooner."

Now, the police have organized a special "conditions unit" - call 'em the "Blight Patrol" - to identify blemishes like broken windows and graffiti that can transform a decent neighborhood into a crime zone almost overnight. But the cops can't do it alone.

Gus Espinoza, who coordinates many of the city's clean-up efforts, says it starts with enforcement. Cars must be towed for violating parking ordinances.

Property owners must be cited and fined for not keeping their lots clean.

The city hopes, cautiously, that the Bedford clean-up will stick.

For now, this eyesore is a sight for sore eyes.

Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be heard live today on WTIC NewsTalk 1080AM from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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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