For over 60 years, the Hartford landfill has been greeting visitors from the north with a slap in the face.
Welcome to Hartford, please enjoy our smelly mountain of trash.
What a nice way to introduce this historic city to the world — not to mention the poor folks in the North End neighborhoods to the west who have endured this ill-conceived Mount Trashmore for years.
All this was before the landfill closed and I traveled to the top of our hideous mountain of garbage. Now I see how all sorts of things are possible on this old rubbish pile.
The view from the summit — elevation 138 feet — is stunning, green and I-can't-believe-this-is-Hartford.
Up top, you can barely hear the blue highway below, which runs by like a shimmering torrent. Hartford's skyline rises like the Tetons to the south, the Connecticut River lies to the east and Hartford's lush North End to the west.
It isn't often you get the chance to turn ugly into astonishing opportunity.
"It is very calm. You are surprised by the peacefulness, believe it or not," city council member Luis Cotto said during our tour of the top of the landfill, which stopped accepting waste in December. "The view of the city is beautiful. You can look all the way down Tower Avenue."
We drove about with a few guides from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which is in charge of closing the landfill, and we speculated about what might unfold on Hartford's hill.
Cotto told me about bald eagles and bird watching. We talked about wind turbines, solar power, a giant public art installation, mountain bike trails and public gardens.
Right now, as an advisory committee begins to study the options, anything is possible.
Trude Mero, who lives along Tower Avenue and has endured the trashy view for decades, told me she found the view from up top "a vista I would never dream of."
"To see if it can be turned into something that's a value to people and the city, that would be wonderful," said Mero, a member of the "post-closure advisory committee" appointed by Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
"We can do something else. I have no idea what."
Imagine an Elizabeth Park-style rose garden up there, complete with paths for walking and cycling, with rows of wind turbines to the north and a sculpture garden similar to Chicago's Millennium Park. Maybe they should build an observatory — or cricket fields and mini-golf.
"I tell people the same two things," landfill consultant Alan Benevides said. "You can do anything on a landfill. It's a matter of how much it costs. The second thing is that it generally costs more to do something on a landfill than it does someplace else."
Benevides also warned me there are some obstacles besides the price. The landfill has more than 70 gas well venting pipes, which stick up all over the place and produce enough electricity annually to supply 1,700 homes.
This is some kind of challenge, but on the other hand, they could become part of the public art, mechanical trees perhaps.
"In Hartford, where is there a 100-acre site along the river with nothing on it? It's a tremendous opportunity," Benevides said, grasping the larger prospect.
"It is absolutely gorgeous up there," Benevides said, urging the city to consider everything from the most inexpensive — just fencing it off — "to the wildest, craziest idea that you can think of."
If you've got an idea, share it on my blog at courant.com/rick. In coming months, Cotto's committee will hold public meetings to discuss plans further.
Cotto is thinking about Chicago and Seattle and other cities that have taken under-used public spaces and made parks, sculpture gardens and places people want to be a part of.
"It's been such a thorn in the city's side," Cotto said. "But when you look around and see what other people have done, then you start getting excited."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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