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Hipness In Hartford? City Should Support Skate Park Vibe


July 12, 2013

When I served on Hartford's city council, I frequently came across groups of skateboarders and writers (graffiti artists) at the Dunkin Donuts across from the library on weekends. Talking to them, I found out that downtown Hartford, particularly New Ross County, Wexford Park (commonly referred to as Heaven), is a mecca (pun intended) for skateboarders across the northeastern United States.

For whatever reason, Hartford had a park in its downtown that had become hip something any city would love to cultivate as a way of increasing its vitality. Since then, the park has remained a popular, positive attraction, but keeping that intangible quality requires a delicate balance between city oversight and user freedom.

In the summer of 2009, at a hip-hop festival at the same park, I met many young people all experiencing and sharing the park's ambience. Hundreds of youths of many colors and socio-economic backgrounds congregated at Heaven to celebrate the four elements of hip-hop DJing, MCing, break dancing and graffiti writing. The 10-hour celebration drew close to 1,000 youths and parents.

In the ensuing years, there has been positive, forward movement in working with those who use and enjoy the park to improve it and to establish a harmonious relationship with neighboring buildings and businesses. Hartford received national recognition when it created a task force of local graffiti writers, skateboarders and business leaders. Renovations that would make the park even more appealing for skateboarding were initiated and a Tony Hawk grant was secured along with a community development block grant to help pay for the improvements.

But these past few weeks, that movement looks to have stalled with a debate over whether to limit that areas in the park open for graffiti writers. The conversation is peppered with generational and cultural miscommunications reminiscent of parents arguing with their children. I suggest everybody take a breath and move away from their opinions of "what is in good taste" and "what looks good" and move more toward a very real fact:

There is a space in downtown Hartford that has been identified by thousands of people locally, regionally and nationally for its coolness and funkiness.

Shouldn't this be something to celebrate and capitalize on?

The city, for example, could seek to help an innovative skateboard and urban shop get established in downtown. There's precedent in the laudable attempt to bring a grocery store downtown and the current storefront project led by the city's marketing, events and cultural affairs office.

The city should also establish a full-time presence, using its recreation division, in New Ross County, Wexford Park similar to other city parks so the staff can facilitate activities such as skateboarding workshops and bicycle maintenance classes.

A memorandum of understanding can be developed between the city and representatives of the graffiti community to help co-curate parts of the walls while still allowing some walls to be used for more free-style organic manifestations.

The possibilities are endless. Let's think creatively to highlight what Heaven brings to Hartford!

Luis Edgardo Cotto is the former minority leader of the Hartford City Council and lives in Cambridge, Mass.

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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