Hartford is a loose web of political, corporate and cultural fiefdoms that have not always worked together for the betterment of the city. If the diverse entities in the city could agree to work together, starting right now, Hartford could pull off a great urban initiative that would not only put it on a level with competitors such as Providence and New Haven, but push it onto the national scene as well.
There are three major projects in the works, as well as several tangential efforts, that involve the east-west corridor in the heart of the city. If these could be coordinated, synchronized and planned as one project, the result could be stunning.
Let's start with the growing "Hub of Hartford" movement to de-emphasize I-84 through the middle of Hartford. The decision to run the interstate highway through the center of the city was perhaps the most regrettable planning decision of the last century. The Hub group is exploring ways to minimize the damage.
Much of the highway corridor includes land where the central branch of the Park River use to flow. In tangent with the Hub project, the Capitol Region Council of Governments wants to run Hartford's East Coast Greenway segment through the same area, taking advantage of the urban gaps left by the now-buried river.
The greenway can connect to new green corridors being planned for the river's north and south branches, which reappear in the city's western neighborhoods.
The Park River Watershed Revitalization Initiative is working to transform the entire river system into a vibrant green corridor. The project will promote the use of green infrastructure to improve the overall quality of the river, prevent future flooding and gradually transform Hartford into a green city.
Alongside these three major initiatives, there are a series of additional projects that are tied to this corridor area. Two are transit projects, one rail and one a busway, which should take pressure off I-84.
Plus, the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, the Farmington Avenue Alliance and the Hartford Preservation Alliance are rehabilitating the historic residential, commercial and industrial fabric in and around the corridor. Corporations such as Aetna and The Hartford are involved. The Courant, the Hog River Journal and others have backed the transformation of the Park River corridor.
Were all of these initiatives coordinated, Hartford could pull off a phenomenal, comprehensive urban project that would include highway revision, greenway development, neighborhood rehabilitation, transit development and green design.
The city would essentially replace a transportation system that has ripped apart the city with a multifaceted green corridor that would tie it back together.
In addition, the city could look at a variety of ways of reinventing the Park River within this new green corridor, either by daylighting portions of the waterway, creating new water features reminiscent of the old river, or even keeping portions of the underground river conduit and making it an official tourist destination.
The city would be stunned to know how many people are interested in traveling to Hartford to wade through the buried river.
This isn't one of the city's failed "big bang" projects. It is simply the coordination of existing projects that would integrate downtown renewal with neighborhood development; thus creating a rich urban environment that will draw more people to the city. It will be the kind of environment that will encourage young professionals to chose Hartford over Providence or New Haven.
The pieces are there. It's just a matter of Hartford's various institutions and community organizations talking with one another, coordinating their work and producing a major urban initiative that the city desperately needs.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at