Quality Of Life Is Hartford's Elephant In The Room
By VINCENT TURLEY
August 08, 2010
Hartford will begin to move forward and succeed when the discussion focuses on the third rail in urban politics, quality of life. It is the single most important factor that drives all successful communities. People decide where to live, raise families, and invest their money based on the livability of a location.
So how has Hartford managed to not address this issue for at least two decades? The reason is that quality of life inevitably boils down to discussing behavior, and Hartford officials will not discuss behavior, for fear of offending someone.
For decades, these officials have pretended that Hartford's shortcomings were due to everything but the quality of life. The talk is always about getting someone else to solve our problems. Our leaders are delighted to consider a subject like Arizona's immigration laws while ignoring issues they can affect, such as crime and taxes. Unfortunately, the situation doesn't look promising. There is no upside for an elected official to challenge the status quo. This is especially true in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Once elected, these people have a job for life. So the last thing they want to discuss is touchy quality-of-life issues.
Year after year, residents hear about the need to increase home ownership or to attract more businesses and jobs to the city. The reality is these investments flow to where a good quality of life already exists, not where it might exist someday. That day will not come in Hartford until behavior is on the agenda.
Much has been written lately about the troubled Park Street construction project. What hasn't been mentioned is the constant dumping of trash all over the Park Street area. Or consider the adult males riding children's bikes in my Frog Hollow neighborhood. They wear winter parkas in 90-degree heat and simply ride up and down the street. How much political courage does it take to suggest they are in the drug trade and probably not part of Lance Armstrong's "Race for the Cure?" But any suggestion that these types of behaviors directly afffects Hartford's future is taboo.
There is much goodwill for Hartford coming from outside the city. People have always rooted for Hartford. They will continue to give their time and money to the city. But they won't wade into the quality-of-life fight.
First, any talk of individual accountability from someone outside the city usually brings one of two responses: Either the person is labeled a racist for suggesting that behavior counts, or is dismissed as an outsider with no right to comment on Hartford's issues. That's silly, given the enormous amount of tax dollars the city receives from Connecticut taxpayers, but it is nonetheless true.
Another factor is that people outside the city like to use Hartford as an economic and social Petri dish. Everyone has their pet project that will help cure Hartford's ills. They range from charter schools to solar power initiatives, to legalizing drugs. It's not that these ideas don't have some merit. But these suggestions distract from the real issue. Worthwhile projects might add to a good quality of life but they won't create one.
Hartford is once again at a crossroads. It is an opportunity for our elected officials to not only admit that quality of life matters but to act on it. Well, we are waiting. It has been weeks since the new mayor took office, yet neither the city council nor the board of education has a president. It looks like our officials are still dithering.
Vincent Turley is a Hartford resident and veteran teacher in the city school system.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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