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Looking After Bushnell Park

TYLER SMITH

June 15, 2008

Who should decide what changes are made to Bushnell Park? How should the decision be reached?

These are not academic questions. Members of the Bushnell Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the historic park, were surprised and concerned to learn of a resolution recently introduced by Mayor Eddie Perez at the request of the AFL/CIO to approve the construction of a monument in the park commemorating "workers killed on the job." There will be a public hearing on the proposal tomorrow at city hall at 7 p.m. The city council is scheduled to vote on it at its June 23 meeting.

The resolution raises a question that has nothing to do with this group or this monument. It is: What is the appropriate review and approval process to evaluate proposed additions or changes to Bushnell Park? There is no such procedure, and there clearly ought to be.

Bushnell Park is a special place. It is the emerald jewel of our downtown. It was first envisioned by Horace Bushnell and became a reality in 1854, after the citizens of Hartford voted to buy the land to create the nation's first park paid for by a municipality.

Designed by Jacob Weidenman, it was completed in 1876 and re-named in honor of Bushnell. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The park encompasses 37 acres of lawn and includes paths, pavilions, artwork, monuments and specimen trees. Urban planners Jack Dollard and Ken Greenberg correctly urged Hartford to recognize and care for Bushnell Park as the downtown's greatest physical asset. It is used each year by more than a half-million people for concerts and special events as well as casual enjoyment.

While there are some protections in place, there is no clearly delineated process to review proposed additions and alterations to Bushnell Park. In 1973, the state Department of Transportation was moving forward with plans to build a six-lane connector from behind the State Capitol down to Pulaski Circle to link I-84 to I-91. It was to run in the park in an open "canyon" parallel to Elm Street. One would think that such a monumentally bad idea would never be proposed in the first place, but it was, and it was killed because Bushnell Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, federal funds could not be used to "adversely impact" a federally recognized landmark.

It is important to note that because Bushnell Park is listed on the National Register, any proposed changes to the park would have to be reviewed by the relatively new Hartford Preservation Commission, in accordance with the Hartford Municipal Code. But this review comes late in the game, after money and effort have been spent to prepare construction documents prior to submitting plans to the city for a building permit.

Bushnell Park, because of its unique significance to Hartford, deserves the oversight and protection of established stakeholders and stewards. A committee should be formed to review and comment on any proposed changes or additions big or small to the park. It should include representation from the city's Public Works Department (which houses the parks division), the city's Historic Preservation Commission, The Bushnell Park Foundation and The Hartford Preservation Alliance.

The monument proposed by the AFL/CIO may or may not be an appropriate addition to Bushnell Park, but before the council acts on approving this monument, for which there is no specific design or proposed location, it should put in place a committee that can give good counsel on this and any future proposals that would affect Bushnell Park.

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.
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