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First, Fix City's Small Problems

July 18, 2006

The planners and dreamers want us to think big about Hartford and its suburbs.

They see parks with biking and running trails extending like fingers into the surrounding towns, bubbly retail centers along vibrant streets entering the city and - unbelievably - a re-routing of our cursed interstate highways.

One of the men behind these ideas, the visionary planner Ken Greenberg, was back in town the other day to talk about "Hartford 2010." It's an initiative designed to spark creative thinking and private investment led by the Metro Hartford Alliance and the city.

Unfortunately, it's the big dreams that grab our attention. That's a problem in a city where some can't let go of bringing the Whalers back.

"Allow yourself to think out of the box," Greenberg told a group of about 50 city residents at a meeting I attended in Coltsville, next door to the transforming Colt Building. "Think about the things that could happen."

Greenberg is right. Big things are happening in Hartford, and suburban folks should take notice. Greenberg is also just as passionate about the little things like pedestrian-friendly crosswalks. Still, the Canadian urban design consultant is emphatic that Hartford must think about the big and small.

"We really have to focus on all of those things that make people feel more comfortable," he said.

The reality is a laundry list of little things that compel residents to leave Hartford - or convince suburbanites to chose West Hartford center for a night out.

As they told Greenberg the other night in Coltsville, when smaller problems cloud the picture, it's not easy to see the big vision.

Andrea Duzak-Forestier said she would like to know why there have been calls to police from her southwest Hartford neighborhood that were never answered.

"We have to do something about the quality of life," Duzak-Forestier, a teacher at Breakthrough Magnet School, implored. "People are going to move in - and then move out."

Alyssa Peterson said she didn't necessarily want bigger parks. Just making present parks clean and safe would be a start.

Others said it's fine to talk about bringing in business, but it still can cost $20 if you want to go to a restaurant in downtown Hartford - and that's just for parking.

These folks should be listened to. Why bother with these feel-good temptations - a South Green that rivals Blue Back Square! - when it's the everyday stuff that frustrates?

The answer is because it's all connected.

"Therein lies the whole challenge," Greenberg told me when I called him at his Toronto office. "We for sure are not going to create the impression that these big mega-projects are the answer. The answers are a lot of small and medium-sized things."

Among the most interesting of the ideas pitched by Greenberg, the city and the alliance is developing areas such as South Green, Upper Albany Avenue and the confluence of Farmington and Asylum avenues.

This idea of making neighborhoods more attractive to private investment is a good one - at least as good as that taxpayer-financed convention center.

But it's these pie-in-the-sky plans - like rerouting I-84 - that get in the way of this clear thinking. Hartford native Patricia Kelly said as much when she told Greenberg it's time to come up with real, achievable ideas that don't fade away.

"If you say it, you've got to mean it," said Kelly, president of the Ebony Horsewomen, Inc., a Hartford-based equestrian group. "We've been teased enough."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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