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It’s Called the Heartbeat for a Reason

By Kerri Provost

August 31, 2010

By now, you’ve probably heard that Hartford was placed on a controversial list. It’s funny how some have latched right on to the notion, but when Hartford makes other lists, its presence on them is instantly dismissed. For example, CNNMoney.com named Hartford as one of the best places to start a small business. The posting of this link to a friend’s Facebook page was followed by immediate reactionary comments, dismissing the ranking. But between CNN and a source I had never heard of, I am going to typically find CNN to be more reliable. The opposite seems to be true for many; they believe whichever source reaffirms their own beliefs. Yet, how is it that multiple pieces of evidence are routinely ignored? Forbes.com placed Hartford on a list of Best Cities to Find a Job. On another list, Hartford moved from #149 (out of 200) in 2008 to #49 in 2009 Best Performing Cities. Those are just three lists that refute the claim that Hartford belongs on a “worst” list based on its economy. Hartford is known for its insurance industry, but insurance is not the only game in town. The economy is also not the only way to take a city’s pulse. A neighborhood in Hartford was named on “Best Places for First-Time Buyers to Get an Old House” published on This Old House. But that’s a positive story, so there’s nothing to see there. Right?

Live in Hartford, a local blog, has published a number of articles which implicitly, and at times explicitly, make the case that Hartford is very much alive. Heck, the name of the blog itself, no matter which version of “live” one reads it as, makes this exact point. While some are using economics as the way to take a city’s temperature, Emily and Julie measure life in another way. In an article published yesterday, Emily directly addresses the recent controversial list. In March, she took a similar approach by listing the plethora of arts and entertainment activities happening within city limits. In January, Julie wrote about the standpoint theory, and described how someone from not here referred to Hartford as a cosmopolitan city. Going back to June 2009, Julie shows what a party for the brand new science center looks like. A piece from March 2009 talks about what it is like to live here as young(ish) professionals. This is just a sampling of what a single blog has done to describe, in words and pictures, Hartford, at length. There are no bait-and-switch tactics, no sensationalism, and no appeals to emotions used here (well, except for when the bloggers try to find homes for dogs). It’s honest. But as Emily writes, “what do I know, I just live and work and shop and play here.”

Every so often a major media outlet declares something dead. Or, they will mask a statement by turning it into a question. They will ask if God is dead, or feminism is dead. Egregious claims and controversial debates sell copies, more than nuanced argument will. Take for example the claims made by a District Attorney candidate in that state just to our north. One candidate described a neighborhood in Springfield as a “war zone.” We have heard similar exaggerated claims made about all or parts of Hartford. Such claims diminish the experience of those who have actually served in real war zones; they are also false analogies. In a war, civilians often become casualties. In urban violence, it’s rare for innocent people to be injured or killed. Well, in the Massachusetts case, one of the candidate’s opponents questioned the characterization of Springfield as a war zone by going into one of the “bad” neighborhoods, sans police escort, during the day at first, and then a second time, late in the evening. The MassLive article reports:

Spelman’s comparison, which he said he found insulting both as a resident of Springfield and of Hampden County, was also unfair to a neighborhood, Kogut said. Brightwood, while not without problems, is filled with decent, law-abiding residents like any other neighborhood in Springfield, he said.

“We need to solve our problems, not make everyone bitter with insults,” he said.

This story fits in well with such categorizations of Hartford as “dead” or “one of the worst” because such labels are insulting, they are unfair, and they create bitterness without actually solving anything. Instead of dwelling on how certain companies have left the city, why not work on bringing them back, boosting existing businesses, or helping to foster new ones? Instead of worrying ourselves sick about the “white flight” that reduced Hartford’s population decades ago (the controversial list Hartford recently landed on falsely implies that this decrease in population was recent and drastic, when in fact, it was a loss over several decades) we could be looking at positive measures for increasing the city’s population. One of those measures, which I have personally benefitted from, is the House Hartford program. Unfortunately, programs that provide assistance but still require the person benefiting to be financially responsible (unlike, say, Section 8, which can be abused by many parties involved. I know of a local landlord who was collecting payments after his Section 8-receiving tenant moved out. I’m certain he is not the first, only, or last landlord to work the system.), are not advertised well. If anyone needs a history refresher, it was programs similar to this (along with the creation of the interstate system) that actually enabled the development of the suburbs. Besides working on improving the economy, it would not hurt to let people know that there are programs to help with first-time home-ownership. There are opportunities here.

Why be defined by a one-dimensional list? We should be questioning such claims. Anytime anything is described as dead, sad, boring, awful, or worst, we should be questioning. How is this conclusion being reached? Who is the author? More often than not, asking such questions will ultimately tell us more about the author’s worldview than about what that place is like. Some people, no matter what, will be bored easily. Bring them to the Mardi Gras or put them on a space shuttle, and they will be bored. Similarly, there are people who have such a narrow worldview that anything not fitting into their prescribed vision is instantly denounced or dismissed. Recognize them for what they are and move along.

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
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