Tonight the Hartford Public Library provided a venue for a large audience who would witness a range of opinions regarding the city’s revitalization. The audience, though not all white, clearly did not fairly represent the ethnic diversity of Hartford. The panel, even less diverse in terms of race, had some distinct ideological differences.
The atmosphere was insular, with an undertone of sucking up (to whom, I’m not sure). It was not cozy so much as exclusive-feeling. Either you were following their conversation for years and on a first name basis with everyone, or you couldn’t get a microphone to ask a damn question for over an hour.
Rather than go subject-by-subject, I’d like to pull out a few gems from what individual panelists said. I’ll begin with comments from Chuck Coursey, who is the spokesman for Northland Investment Corporation, “downtown Hartford’s largest private property owner,” which happens to own Hartford 21. Spoiler: the cliche, “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it” fits well here.
Coursey remarked early on that Hartford 21 is “already” over 1/3 leased out, which means that Hartford 21 is ahead of their schedule. In explaining his adaptation of Reaganomics, Coursey mentioned how in the future, he’d like to see the developments that began in downtown to move “south toward Hartford Hospital,” and then later toward the north. He acknowledged the problems created by the physical barrier of I-84, and even began to sound progressive by suggesting that some parking lots downtown be razed and made into “entry level housing.” Too bad the clientèle for that entry level housing is an afterthought in all this, coming in behind the nouveau riche who now get to “tower above the rest.”
Toward the end of the talk, possibly after the official program closed, Coursey responded to a question, lamenting how things have changed, and I quote, “since Front Street up and left.” If Coursey were up on his Hartford history, he’d have known that Front Street hardly up and left; rather, Front Street residents and businesses were evicted so that Constitution Plaza could move in.
Not all panel members were quite so ignorant, but some were just as annoying. John O’Connell, with a political agenda on the brain, could only talk about Perez, Feltman, and taxes. O’Connell, once a Hartford Republican Town Chair, claimed that Connecticut has the greatest tax burden. That statistic will need to be looked into.
When I asked how panel members reconcile or respond to the fact that some young, Hartford residents are feeling a sense of alienation and growing animosity because of recent revitalization tactics that loudly send the message that the current residents don’t matter (not white enough, not rich enough), O’Connell did a stellar job of dodging the question. In a cryptic answer that didn’t address what I was talking about, he said, “the nightclub and restaurant you want is funded by someone with a discretionary income.” Funny, I don’t remember being asked what I want. And that’s part of the problem. Hartford residents are not asked for our input–at least not until after the fact. Hartford has too many nightclubs and a good number of restaurants. I’d like other kinds of commerce, but I’d like to see residents’ needs taken care of first.
Oz Griebel, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the MetroHartford Alliance, did respond by saying that Hartford needs to retain, as well as recruit residents. He mentioned the need to “grow with people” who can make positive “contributions.” Griebel, along with Marilyn Rossetti, the Executive Director of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), seemed to be the most informed of all panel members on the subject.
To my question, Rossetti spoke of the reality of “two worlds of the have and have nots” that make up Hartford. Later, when reacting to an audience member’s comment that the “number one issue is crime,” Rossetti said that we must talk seriously about the link between crime and poverty.
The panel made for an interesting discussion on Hartford’s revitalization. Unfortunately, voices of reason that know something about what goes on in the neighborhoods, as well as about what has happened in Hartford’s past, have not received much mainstream news coverage. Instead, we’ve heard ad nauseum the sounds of “trickle down economics” that appeal to a very specific class-based demographic. Members of the corporate news media were in the audience. We’ll have to wait and see how they decide to frame the debate.
Updated: The Courant‘s Jeffrey Cohen actually wrote up a pretty decent review of the event. Not incredibly detailed, but he does manage to give voice to the diversity of opinions.