Publications have long known that creating lists is a surefire way to attract readers. Top 10 tax delinquents, best ballplayers of all time — the list of lists could go on and on. Often, the primary goal is to get people arguing and buying the product.
By those standards, the website http://www.247wallst.com, which recently named Hartford among "America's 10 Dead Cities," succeeded. But as Mark Twain, one of the city's best-known residents, might well have said, the report of Hartford's death was an exaggeration.
There is no question that Hartford is home to some of the state's poorest residents and has lost (over decades) major manufacturers. And, as the website notes, the city's population has shrunk from its 1950 peak of 177,000 to 124,000.
But Hartford's 18-square-mile footprint would rank it as a mere neighborhood in many of the nation's cities. To consider Hartford without the dozens of towns that surround it is to ignore the interrelationship of the city and its suburbs, which place the region as the 12th wealthiest metro area (measured by income per person) in the nation.
Thousands of people, many of whom earn handsome livings, commute daily to Hartford to work in the still-substantial insurance industry and other businesses. The city's Convention Center is state-of-the-art, as are the neighboring science museum and hotel. Our list of cultural attractions includes a world-class art museum, theater and concert hall; envied historic sites such as the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses; and a wondrously creative arts community with extraordinary impresarios, designers, writers and other artists, as well as generous patrons and appreciative audiences. These are vibrant signs of life.
Nevertheless, there is something haunting about being on the dead cities list, no matter how poorly conceived the criteria for rating urban areas. It's a label that's hard to fight and, if allowed to stick, can be damaging to property values, to attracting new business and investors, and to the health of the suburbs.
Hartford, like many cities, is going through a painful period of redefinition. Areas of weakness, such as a lack of affluent residents, will improve incrementally. Strong steps have been taken to lift the city's schools, and their test results show steady improvement.
The state's budget woes, which have put pressure on municipal budgets, may help break down local resistance to treating economic development, public safety, transportation and other services as regional — shared — issues. Hartford may yet move back into the role of regional hub. Maybe the next time someone makes a list, it will recognize the strength of the capital region with Hartford as its center.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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