There are a number of ways to become more intimate with Hartford. In September, there is a bicycle and walking tour that takes participants for a ten or twenty-five mile loop around the city. There is a historical walking tour focused on downtown. There are even several progressive dinners in the West End which basically give you a tour of the homes in this area.
I’d like to lead people on trash tours.
The tour would begin rather tame. I’d start you off at Mt. Hartford, where the region’s garbage is buried. It closed as an active landfill at the end of 2008. From there, I’d take the caravan to the CRRA Trash Museum in South Meadows. In eighth grade my class took a trip to the Trash Museum one day, and the Hartford Courant on the following. Though already an aspiring writer at that age and overflowing with curiosity, I was bored numb at the Courant, but wowed by piles of junk. At this point, I would have my band of trash tourists change into thick-soled shoes, clothes that can be wrecked, and we would go forth onto the more challenging part of the garbage safari.
I’d walk you through areas that have not seen a street sweeper in likely ten years. These are areas that are on nobody’s radar because they are not swank enough to make it into an arts & events guide, and not dangerous enough to make the ten o’clock news. They’re the ignored middle child.
On the tour, you’d learn why and how these areas fell apart. You may even recognize that the cause of these problems has less to do with the slovenly nature of residents, and more to do with a general apathy toward where people reside. There is no more direct way to tell a person that she does not matter than to remove a car from the pond in Bushnell Park within hours, but to ignore the small mountains of tires that are chucked at the end of her street and remain there, year after year.
I like wandering through the detritus. I don’t like that it is there to begin with. Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)
It is natural for me to obsess over people, places, and things that seem forgotten. There have been shiny, happy campaigns to bring young, urban professionals into downtown Hartford. I fit into the young, urban professional category; I like downtown Hartford. But there is more to the area than downtown, the West End, and West Hartford Center.
Hartford is composed almost entirely of not-so-fancy neighborhoods. It’s remarkably normal to find condoms on the sidewalk; whereas, it is abnormal, mostly, to have an in-building concierge. There are ways of responding to this, one of which is to wear sensible shoes and another of which is to pay attention to what is underfoot.
We do not pay attention nearly enough. Back in April, I participated in an environmental clean up in a forgotten-yet-high-traffic part of the city. Should it be surprising that the area across from WalMart and fast food restaurants was encrusted in debris? We spent hours picking up litter and barely made a dent. The side streets still need cleaning.
Across the highway is even more desolate. People live there, but one would hardly know it from the apparent lack of services. Traveling past The Warehouse on Bartholomew Avenue, away from Park Street, is eye-opening.
Most of the street is abandoned. There are three houses belonging to a substance abuse recovery center. Only one of those houses appears remotely respectable. It’s wedged between other abandoned houses and warehouses.
There’s trash in the street and all over the sidewalks– not small pieces of litter, as is standard, but illegally dumped materials. The street ends at a barricaded road, Olive Street, disconnecting it from Wellington Street; the roadway is blocked to discourage exactly this kind of illegal dumping; however, it seems that nobody monitors this.
This forgotten area of Parkville and Behind the Rocks is hardly the only area in Hartford where illegal dumping is the norm, but it seems even sadder here. The section of Bartholomew closest to Park Street is hip, happenin’, and maintained. This region, by Belmont and beyond, would be thankful to even be called “in disrepair.” It fits the cliche of being on the wrong side of the tracks.
There are plans to fix up this area, including Hamilton and Olive Streets, but those plans might never be realized, what with the current budgeting fiasco. Reopening desolate streets and removing (or restoring) decrepit and dangerous buildings becomes less of a priority when “important” things like education and public safety can not seem to be adequately funded.
And then there is the trash mound on Capitol Avenue between Laurel, Hawthorne, and Forest. Apparently, this is state property. I have to wonder if Gov. Rell would want a picture of this included in all of the Staycation/Connecticut Tourism advertisements. It’s shameful, and it’s still there. Recently, someone closed the gate, though it was held shut only with twine. This might have discouraged some of the illegal dumping, though it does nothing to clean up this mess. Not two weeks later, the gate had been ripped right off of the fence, once again opening this area to anyone who might want to dispose of tires and mattresses.
Yes, well-meaning people could clean this up. I could clean it up. But there are people who are employed to do this sort of thing, and with the economy being what it is, why not have people really do some work? Someone budgets for graffiti removal, which I have routinely noted is a less dangerous problem than rusting metal and shards of glass.
Here’s another idea: the city could get more bang out of its budget by having students– en masse– clean up. Besides the feel good civic responsibility this might teach, they would also learn how all the junk they toss on the ground does not disappear. Those bags of Cheetos remain on the ground years after being dropped, with the only difference being faded ink. Witnessing this intensely has more staying power than reading about it in some dull textbook. Furthermore, this hands-on science lesson would also fulfill teachers’ need to adjust their lesson plans to meet various learning styles. There’s the sticky subject of unpaid labor, but really, if the purpose is to teach community pride and environmental awareness, and as long as the kids are not working regularly for hours on end, it can be legitimized as a worthwhile learning experience. With so much yammering about “youth services” and “after school activities,” constructive activities for youth should be warmly welcomed. Playing basketball day after day can teach only so much.