I live in Connecticut partly by choice, but mostly by coincidence.
I left Ohio to attend Trinity College in Hartford on a full scholarship. When I graduated, I faced two options. I could leave Connecticut and start fresh in Tampa, Fla., living for free with my favorite grandparent, or I could accept the job that I had been offered here.
I am now the voice of 1000 Friends of Connecticut, a coalition of smart growth advocates determined to curb sprawling development and improve our quality of life. One of the first conferences I attended in my new role posed a way to measure sustainability in Connecticut: How many 15- to 25-year-olds want to stay in the state after graduating from high school or college?
Now, seven months have passed and I cannot help but wonder, "Why do I want to live here?"
Our state's lack of well-coordinated mass transit leaves me at the mercy of my unreliable Cavalier and I'm spending a growing percentage of my life in traffic jams. My dependence on my car is exacerbated even in my neighborhood because not all of Hartford's streets are friendly to pedestrians and bikers. Then there's the egregiously high cost of living in Connecticut that is perpetuated by high energy and transportation costs.
More frustrating is that neighboring states are succeeding while Connecticut is failing to retain young professionals. I envy my fellow graduates who fled to Boston or New York. Their cities and neighborhoods provide a quality of place that Connecticut has yet to match. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more people are moving back into cities, which is exactly where my peers want to live.
As a young professional, I want to reside somewhere that I can live, work and play without depending on an automobile. I want to be able to walk my dog and cross the street — at a crosswalk, mind you — without causing an accident. I want to be surrounded by thriving intellectual activity and unique cultural attractions that are conducive to my mental and professional well-being. As a member of a generation of multitaskers, I need to live in a community with an assortment of amenities within easy walking distance.
I want to live in a healthy city that is the heart and soul of a thriving region, with highly skilled people and dense social networks, where innovation and productivity are maximized. That is where I will flourish.
I may sound like a bright-eyed idealist; however, I believe Connecticut cities can be competitive again. In "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," Jane Jacobs argues that a vibrant city has a critical mass. Connecticut cities provide the concentration that promotes vitality. With the proper support, they can retain young professionals while restoring the state's economic prosperity in a way that preserves our limited natural resources.
This means we must invest in land-use strategies that support high-density, mixed-use urban development to encourage interaction among city inhabitants. We need mixed-income communities where we can live smaller, live closer and drive less. Connecticut cities and towns need to feel less dependent on property taxes for revenue so that neighboring municipalities are encouraged to cooperate instead of competing for scarce resources.
It will take time, and everyone needs to sacrifice for the greater good. Our state government needs to invest in infrastructure that doesn't postpone costs to the next generation. This may mean paying more taxes now to avoid being overwhelmed with expenses later.
I don't come from old money and I certainly don't have new money. But, I'm willing to start addressing the problem — instead of leaving my children with an economic and environmental reality starker than the one I've inherited. Until more people — in the public and private sectors — are willing to make the same sacrifices, Connecticut will continue losing young talent. I only hope I remain one of the resilient few who tough it out for the long haul.
Nichole Strack, 23, is executive director of 1000 Friends of Connecticut.
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