Our Charmingly Irregular Quilt

iQuilt intends to improve pedestrian routes from Bushnell Park to the Connecticut River, along with connecting cultural sites in Hartford. The Bushnell’s website explains:

Hartford – unlike many American cities – enjoys a remarkably compact and clearly bounded downtown. With the small square area of the iQuilt ( just over a half mile square) bounded by Buckingham/Charter Oak Avenue, I-84, and the Connecticut River, is a loose grid of north-south and east-west streets which, in map view, form a kind of charmingly irregular quilt. Within this quilt, almost all the key cultural destinations, including the Capitol, Bushnell Park, The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Stage Company, the Old State House, and the new Connecticut Science Center, are within a 15 minute walk of each other. The iQuilt will make it easy and enjoyable to walk from one cultural asset to another, while linking them conceptually under a theme of cultural innovation – in science, art and human affairs.

Upon reading this, one must ask how pedestrian routes will be improved in the rest of the city. Afterall, the sidewalks downtown are in decent shape and clear of debris. Beyond the plan to close off a street and expand Bushnell Park, it seems like another way to coddle potential visitors who are unable to cope with walking a few blocks. Tom Condon of the Courant writes:

But hardly anybody thinks to walk from one place to another. People who go to dinner on Trumbull or Main streets often get back in their cars to go to the Bushnell. It is a few short blocks away. You’d walk ten times that distance in New York and not think twice about it. But the yawning open spaces in the park or along Capitol Avenue is not inviting.

Open spaces in a park? God forbid! Correct me if I am wrong, but a feature of a park is open space. The Lorax in me wants to make parking and driving in downtown more difficult as a way to encourage people to stop being lazy and just walk. Except on the hottest, coldest, and thunderstormiest of days, able-bodied individuals should have no trouble navigating downtown.
One of the comments on Condon’s column expressed disdain for being panhandled, and shows that people have excuses instead of reasons for their habits– “I used to park by the Bushnell for free, but was hit up for money by lovely residents all the time.” Unless he is referring to the musicians who perform before shows outside the Bushnell and simply place a box on the ground for peoples’ change, I think this comment is an exaggeration. I rarely get asked for money– maybe once every six months– and on my walks that far exceed a mere few blocks, I pass by many people who definitely need the money.

The goal seems to be to bring people downtown, to “get people used to the idea of walking and hanging out downtown, and making it comfortable for them to do so, said Kate Bolduc, new head of the arts council” (Condon).

I still think that people need to toughen up, but I hesitate to argue with anything that is going to beautify the city.

The project is further described as:

At the larger scale, the quilt would link downtown’s two great natural assets: Bushnell Park and the Connecticut River waterfront. At the smaller scale, the quilt would make it easy and enjoyable to walk from one cultural asset to another, while linking them conceptually under a proposed theme of cultural innovation – in science, art, and human affairs. The “quilt”becomes “The iQuilt”: urban fabric interwoven with cultural innovation.
The theme of cultural innovation has a number of virtues. It allows for a broader definition of Hartford’s “cultural”assets: it can highlight the creativity of the political mind or industrial inventor as readily as the performer or visual artist. It encourages positive associations between knowledge and creativity, between industry and culture, between science and the arts.

So far, partners who have signed on with the project:

• State of Connecticut, Central Regional Tourism District
• State of Connecticut, Department of Public Works
• City of Hartford, Mayor
• City of Hartford, Division of Planning
• MetroHartford Alliance
• Greater Hartford Arts Council
• Hartford Stage
• Connecticut Landmarks
• The Wadsworth Atheneum
• Charter Oak Cultural Center
• The Hartford Public Library
• Connecticut Science Center
• Riverfront Recapture
• Connecticut Historical Society and The Old State House
• Greater Hartford Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
• Hartford Preservation Alliance
• Bushnell Park Foundation
• South Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone

And partners pending:

• Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism
• Spanish American Merchant Association (SAMA)
• The Metropolitan District (MDC)
• Hartford Hospital
• Connecticut Transit District
• Bradley Airport
• Business Improvement District
• Capitol Regional Council of Government (CROG)
• United Technologies Corporation
• The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
• Lincoln Financial Group
• Travelers
• Albermarle Equities
• Bank of America
• Hartford Steam Boiler
• Northland Investment Corporation
• XL Center
• Several area churches including St. Peter’s, South End Church, etc

clockOn Wednesday, June 24th, there will be a public forum on the iQuilt project. At 4:30p.m., doors will open to the Belding Theater at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts (166 Capitol Avenue). The iQuilt presentation will begin at 5, and at 5:45, Q&A and public comment should start. There will be presentations by Douglas Suisman, who was the 2006 American Institute of Architect’s international award winner for best urban design; and Tyler Smith, winner of 2009 Governor’s Arts Awards of Connecticut. I hear they have delicious cookies at these iQuilt meetings.