Dead, comatose or just fine, thanks? When the obscure website 24/7 Wall Street recently declared Hartford among "America's 10 Dead Cities" it provoked a variety of reactions. That range of attitudes — from love it to leave it — is more than evident from the seven people who we asked, "Is Hartford dead?"
NO NEED TO MOURN — LET HARTFORD GO QUIETLY
By LAURENCE D. COHEN
Hartford is not quite a "dead city" — it is a zombie city, with some accoutrements of being alive, but no soul-satisfying reason to exist.
There is nothing to mourn; the death of a city such as Hartford is neither good nor bad; it is a reflection of a changing environment in which the core urban centers have simply lost relevance — or at least, lost a compelling claim to importance.
A coming together of creative professionals was once an excuse for an urban center, but suburban office parks, or science parks, can do much the same thing, near convenient housing and shopping. Again, that is not a moral or public policy flaw; it is simply a change in behavior and strategic direction.
In truth, the hiring of 15 traffic cops in the Manchesters and West Hartfords of the region, where people actually want to dine and shop, would be more helpful than additional subsidized fantasy projects in Hartford.
Hartford still has culture and corporate office towers, but those accidents of history and convenience could relocate tomorrow.
Hartford is simply no longer important. Instead of being gone, but not forgotten, Hartford is forgotten, but not quite gone.
Laurence D. Cohen is a columnist for The Courant.
HARTFORD'S NOT DEAD, IT'S ONLY SLEEPING
By DONNA BERMAN
Hartford isn't dead. Like Sleeping Beauty, it just looks dead. Hartford doesn't need a prince, but bold-thinking women and men to wake her. It is shameful and, frankly, unsustainable, for the capital of our wealthy state to be one of the country's poorest cities.
What caused the coma? Ignoring Hartford's financial interdependency with the suburbs; burying the Hog (Park) River so that its putrid waters flow beneath the city (talk about bad karma); building Blue Back Square, a movie set of a downtown, making the real downtown, Hartford, irrelevant.
The cure? We can financially connect the city to its surrounding towns so there is money for infrastructure and services; we can uncover the river, clean it up and geographically reconnect Hartford to the suburbs; we can invest more in the arts and create a funky, Greenwich Village-like town with lots of public art and one-of-a-kind stores. Most important, we can create a city that isn't gentrified, but genteel, making room — and offering opportunities — for everyone.
Hartford has a vibrant arts scene, magnificent diversity, a beautiful river, a world-class science center. But until we understand the apartheid-like system we have created, where the lives of Hartford kids and their families are so tragically different from those of their suburban counterparts, Hartford will remain in a coma. We need to wake up to deliver the kiss that will enable Hartford to rise from the seemingly dead.
Rabbi Donna Berman is executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford.
PEOPLE WORKING TO MAKE IT BETTER
By STEVE CAMPO
Occasionally, after visiting West Hartford Center, I've returned to my longtime home in downtown Hartford disheartened and with a measure of envy.
Often, though, I note another facet of my experience: It all seems a bit too easy. Yes, the streets, shops and restaurants are filled. You feel part of the picture-perfect American town — warm, inviting, clean, affluent, seemingly free of all the problems of mixed-culture urban centers, but not quite real.
I stumbled across an interesting quote the other day from the late Harry Gray, former head of United Technologies Corp. He said, "Reputations are made by searching for things that 'can't be done,' and then doing them."
I might augment his statement to read: "... searching for things — of worth — that 'can't be done,' and then doing them."
Hartford, along with a lot of other American cities, is not a pretty picture. But as long as there are people here working to make the picture better, this city is certainly not dead. It's filled with those striving to do something "that can't be done." But which will be.
Steve Campo is executive director of TheaterWorks in Hartford.
GOOD BONES, GREAT FEATURES, NEEDS FUNDING
By NICHOLAS S. PERNA
Mark Twain, who died 100 years ago, lived on Farmington Avenue. If he were return today he'd probably say, "The report of Hartford's death was an exaggeration." Close to 110,000 jobs are still here, and many of them pay very well. Sure, there are rough neighborhoods, but there are also beautiful ones.
However, Twain would be most impressed with the city's infrastructure. (Obviously, this would exclude those ugly highways that keep people away from Hartford and other cities.) There are world-class cultural institutions such as the Atheneum and the Bushnell and architectural gems like the Connecticut state Capitol, the Old State House and Mark Twain's own fascinating residence. We have a state-of the art convention center complex.
Most of these are within walking distance of each other and some really good restaurants that Twain would certainly enjoy, except for not being able to light up an after-dinner cigar. Also part of this infrastructure are the educational facilities, churches and hospitals whose reach extends far beyond Hartford.
My point is that Hartford has a valuable infrastructure that is alive and well. The city is badly in need of big ideas and big funding, but there's plenty to build on. Twain also said, "The lack of money is the root of all evil."
Nicholas S. Perna teaches economics at Yale University and is economic adviser to Webster Financial Corp.
IGNORE SHORT-SIGHTED, EMPTY CRITICISM
By JAMIL RAGLAND
We in Hartford are sometimes accused of being thin-skinned. We are quick to lash out when a bad word is spoken about our city. In this instance, though, 24/7 Wall Street's list of America's 10 dead cities is the kind of attack that we should ignore completely.
There are 3.5 million people in Connecticut, and nearly as many opinions about Hartford. You can open The Courant on any given day and find columns, letters and op-ed pieces praising Hartford's successes or condemning its failures. What these differing viewpoints share is a genuine love and concern for the city and its people.
When criticism is offered, it is done in the hope that it will lead to improvement. There is nothing constructive in 24/7 Wall Street's description of Hartford, or any of the other cities. The list is a crude attempt at headline-grabbing sensationalism that is not worth our time.
Hartford has real problems. We welcome any critical assessment that seeks to make a positive difference in the city. 24/7 Wall Street points out our flaws without suggestions for improvement. Calling something as complex and dynamic as a city "dead" is short-sighted at best, and malicious at worst.
Jamil Regland of Hartford is a junior in the Individualized Degree Program at Trinity College and a gas station clerk in Bloomfield.
VIBRANT, INSPIRING, ENRICHING
By BESSY REYNA
The Hartford I've grown to love is a city that has educated me with its history, inspired and enriched me with its singular cultural centers, nourished me with its multi-ethnic cuisines and introduced me to many of the most passionate, political and generous friends in my life.
Hartford is bursting with fascinating destinations like the Wadsworth Atheneum, whose joyous First Thursday programs bring hundreds, sometimes thousands of art, music and film-lovers together in celebration. It has small gems like the Charter Oak Cultural Center and the Institute for Community Research whose programming explores and supports local ethnic communities presenting artists and artwork of their heritage.
The writer in me finds inspiration in programs at the Mark Twain House, while I feed my nostalgia for the tropics with delicious roast pork, rice and beans at restaurants on Park Street.
Hartford is a city of people who care about each other, who volunteer to teach adults to read at the YWCA or to make sure girls and boys have clubs to play and learn in after school. That Hartford has hundreds of people of modest means or large who donate time and money to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to ensure that getting to know this city will always be an enriching experience.
Bessy Reyna is a free-lance writer and former opinion columnist for The Courant.
TIME TO END DEPENDENCE ON STATE
By FERGUS CULLEN
If individuals can become so dependent on government welfare programs that they lose the incentive to work, is it possible for the same thing to happen to a city?
Here's a theory: Hartford suffers from too much help from state government. Massive state-funded projects costing hundreds of millions — Adriaen's Landing, the convention center — are nice, but would not have been priorities for local taxpayers if they were footing the bill.
Well-intended state efforts introduce moral hazard. Because the city is protected from risk by a benevolent state government that views Hartford as "too big to fail," the city loses the incentive for self-reliance. If things get really bad, the state will bail us out.
That costly redevelopment efforts are organized by the state-sponsored Capital City Economic Development Authority, not the city, suggests how dependent the city has become — and how little faith state officials have in the city's ability to manage its own affairs.
Parents who do everything for their children, even when motivated by love, do not help those children become self-sufficient, independent adults. Maybe it's time for the state to give Hartford some tough love and require the city to become responsible for its own future.
Fergus Cullen is executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a free-market think tank with offices on the campus of Trinity College
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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