Hartford is a city that is as strong as its people. The definition of "people," however, includes more than just our residents. It includes the almost 120,000 people employed here, for we are still the job center of the state and the insurance capital of the world.
And it also includes the hundreds of thousands who visit each year for entertainment and conventions. Hartford is one of the country's premier cities for arts and culture and a destination of choice, thanks to our parks, historical architecture and diverse neighborhoods.
When Hartford is strong, the region is strong. But to compete in today's global economy, Hartford must be an international destination as well. Easier access to transportation can play a major role in city, regional and state growth. That is why it is essential that Hartford take the lead and work with the surrounding communities to achieve a seamless regional transportation system. The busway connecting the suburbs to the city is just one element of the bigger picture called transit-oriented development that must be envisioned.
We need to link commuter rail, Amtrak and access to Bradley International Airport. People should be able to take the train from Union Station in Hartford to the airport.
For that matter, they should be able to take the train from New Haven or Springfield to get to Bradley. Thinking bigger still: People who use Bradley to fly to and from Amsterdam should be able to simply hop on a high-speed train going to Boston or New York, avoiding the traffic congestion of those larger airports.
A majority of the top 10 cities in the country are implementing ideas like these to improve their quality of life and economic vitality. Connecting modes of transportation is environmentally smart because it reduces pollution. This is "smart health" because reducing emissions will help ease the region's high asthma rate, especially for our children.
Also, when people live close to convenient transportation, they can walk to the train or busway. This increases homeownership opportunities that in turn stabilize communities and attract neighborhood economic development.
So, a regional transportation system is an investment in our economy as well as our ecology. It will build on the various modes of transportation that already exist and connect them, with the goal being that they run more effectively and efficiently and serve more people.
It will create jobs and make it easier to get to existing jobs. Hotels will benefit and tourism at new regional attractions, including the Connecticut Science Center, Blue Back Square, Cabella's and Rentschler Field, will get a boost — providing a positive ripple effect so that new businesses can be established. I will be asking for a federal planning grant to help coordinate how the city and region can maximize transportation projects.
This is smart growth or "better designed and planned for" growth. "No growth" is not an option. We must adopt a smart growth strategy, which means increasing density in our urban centers such as Hartford that translates into economic growth, jobs and new homeowners. But it also means a bigger tax base to provide better city services — including education — which delivers a better-prepared workforce.
For Hartford to continue its unprecedented revitalization, it needs to revitalize something that all people need: a means of getting from point A to point B safely, economically and efficiently. Developing a strong, regional transportation system is a critical step to take advantage of our successes in the past six years — safer streets, higher educational standards, more homeowners and increased investment.
Hartford is as strong as its people — all of its people — and we're moving forward. Now is the time to get "all aboard" together to promote a higher quality of life and a more competitive tomorrow.
Eddie A. Perez is the mayor of Hartford and will speak at the MetroHartford Alliance's Rising Star Breakfast on Tuesday.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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