FOUNDATION SOUNDS ALARM • Lovely green spaces are "at risk for alteration or destruction"
December 24, 2009
Hartford can take pride in its nationally recognized public park system. The capital city boasts the nation's first municipal park ( Bushnell Park, 1854) and the first municipal rose garden (Elizabeth Park, 1904). By the 1940s, Hartford reputedly had the most public park space per capita in America.
But that sterling legacy is threatened by years of indifference and budget cuts, according to a recent report from the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit foundation sounded an alarm by placing Hartford's treasured parks on a list of 16 park systems nationally "at risk for alternation or destruction."
It is easy to take for granted the city's magnificent greenswards, some of which were designed by the first family of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons.
In addition to Bushnell and Elizabeth parks, the system includes Goodwin Park, with its 90-acre Great Meadow; Keney Park, one of the largest public spaces in New England; and Colt, Pope and Riverside parks.
"Today, funding and maintenance are critical issues that threaten these historic landscape resources," the foundation warns.
Decades of neglect and shortsighted policy, such as burying the Park River under Bushnell Park, have damaged these graceful public spaces. A key turning point was the decision to abolish the Hartford Parks Department and split its responsibilities between Public Works and Health and Human Services, which left "a void of vision," in the words of the landscape foundation.
The foundation's report, titled "Landslide 2009," says the current economic downturn "threatens the very survival of Hartford's park system." The report rightly criticizes the recent city government plan to turn over 200 acres in Keney Park for private development.
Not all is bleak. The foundation praises the efforts of various "Friends" groups and the admirable contributions of Riverfront Recapture and the Knox Parks Foundation, but urges greater coordination among them "for the good of a holistic park system."
The foundation also appeals directly to city hall to make a modest investment through grants or staff time "to energize citizens into more creative action."
City hall and citizens groups would do well to study the report and tap the expertise of these national experts. (The report is at http://tclf.org/annual-spotlight/shaping-american-landscape.)
It would be tragic, indeed, if Hartford's celebrated parks were allowed to die a slow death through indifference and neglect.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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