It’s Called the Heartbeat for a Reason

By now, you’ve probably heard that Hartford was placed on a controversial list. It’s funny how some have latched right on to the notion, but when Hartford makes other lists, its presence on them is instantly dismissed.   For example, CNNMoney.com named Hartford as one of the best places to start a small business. The posting of this link to a friend’s Facebook page was followed by immediate reactionary comments, dismissing the ranking. But between CNN and a source I had never heard of, I am going to typically find CNN to be more reliable. The opposite seems to be true for many; they believe whichever source reaffirms their own beliefs. Yet, how is it that multiple pieces of evidence are routinely ignored? Forbes.com placed Hartford on a list of Best Cities to Find a Job. On another list, Hartford moved from #149 (out of 200) in 2008 to #49 in 2009 Best Performing Cities. Those are just three lists that refute the claim that Hartford belongs on a “worst” list based on its economy. Hartford is known for its insurance industry, but insurance is not the only game in town. The economy is also not the only way to take a city’s pulse. A neighborhood in Hartford was named on “Best Places for First-Time Buyers to Get an Old House” published on This Old House. But that’s a positive story, so there’s nothing to see there. Right?

Live in Hartford, a local blog, has published a number of articles which implicitly, and at times explicitly, make the case that Hartford is very much alive. Heck, the name of the blog itself, no matter which version of “live” one reads it as, makes this exact point. While some are using economics as the way to take a city’s temperature, Emily and Julie measure life in another way. In an article published yesterday, Emily directly addresses the recent controversial list. In March, she took a similar approach by listing the plethora of arts and entertainment activities happening within city limits. In January, Julie wrote about the standpoint theory, and described how someone from not here referred to Hartford as a cosmopolitan city. Going back to June 2009, Julie shows what a party for the brand new science center looks like. A piece from March 2009 talks about what it is like to live here as young(ish) professionals. This is just a sampling of what a single blog has done to describe, in words and pictures, Hartford, at length. There are no bait-and-switch tactics, no sensationalism, and no appeals to emotions used here (well, except for when the bloggers try to find homes for dogs). It’s honest. But as Emily writes, “what do I know, I just live and work and shop and play here.”

Every so often a major media outlet declares something dead. Or, they will mask a statement by turning it into a question. They will ask if  God is dead, or feminism is dead. Egregious claims and controversial debates sell copies, more than nuanced argument will. Take for example the claims made by a District Attorney candidate in that state just to our north. Continue reading “It’s Called the Heartbeat for a Reason”

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Casa Linda: August 31, 2010

And now for something quite different.

This home appears almost identical in style to most of the houses that were in my hometown before the whole McMansion craze hit in the early 1990s. The area of Hartford near Wethersfield has a number of single family homes that could easily pass as something found in Newington or West Hartford.

It’s comforting that this style of home exists here, even if it is not one I could visualize myself living in. People who want homes that are not multifamily (which, honestly, are often ugly) can find them if they look around. I’d suggest wandering in the area by First and Last Tavern/Goodwin Park.

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Clean Up Position

Volunteers from the West End Civic Association Beautification & Planting Committee gathered Saturday morning to clean up Elizabeth Park, rounding out the Week of the Parks. A press release says that Mayor Segarra and First Gentleman Charlie Ortiz were at the Sunrise Overlook area at 6 a.m. to talk about clean up efforts over the past week.

Visitors easily notice the difference in park maintenance when crossing Prospect Avenue. The section of Elizabeth Park that is in West Hartford is always spotless (or close to it), while the section in Hartford is often decorated with broken glass and other litter. Volunteers diligently cleaned and weeded this morning. This was no small effort, so it was great to see just how many people donated time on a gorgeous weekend.

The Broken Window theory states that if a window is broken and left in a state of disrepair, then more windows will be broken. People see neglect as a sign that vandalism is acceptable. In the same way, it’s hoped that this space in Elizabeth Park (which just ranked fifth in America’s Best Rose Garden Competition ) will be regularly cleaned and maintained, to discourage the notion that littering here is acceptable.

Other parks that experienced cleaning, repairing, and beautification this week include Keney Park, Bushnell Park, Goodwin Park, and Colt Park.

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Legacy of Hartford Parks

The Pump House Gallery reopened its doors as an art space Thursday evening. The site has gone from a state of neglect to one that we can be proud of: the patio has been weeded, walls have been given a fresh coat of white paint, and the terribly faded sign over the entrance has been repainted. As part of The Week of the Parks, Bushnell Park had its grass mowed, shrubs removed from the front of the Pump House Gallery, branches trimmed,  and benches repaired. Continue reading “Legacy of Hartford Parks”

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One Block, Many Meals

On Thursday afternoons Farm to Hearth sets up a wood fired clay oven in the courtyard of the Billings Forge compound on Broad Street. The pizzas are made from fresh, local ingredients.

East-West Grille, a Pan-Asian restaurant with a generous number of vegetarian dishes, sells lunches from a spot in front of the garden.

If these quick lunch options are not adequate, Firebox — a slower and pricier alternative — is just steps away from the weekly farmers’ market.

There are vendors from several local farms. Finding fresh food is no problem. A recent visit showed variety in abundance: tomatoes, peppers, melons, beets, raspberries, blueberries, apples, plums, basil, and more. Pies made from local fruits and berries were for sale, as were loaves of bread baked on the Billings Forge grounds.

On September 16th there will be a Farm-to-Table Dinner. This is by far the most expensive of the options listed here and is included to show the range that exists on a single city block: Broad Street between Capitol Avenue and Russ Street.

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Old School, New School

Entering The Hartford Club reminded me of how I felt during my first year of college. It was a monumental crossing of a threshold that seemed so off limits to me. While The Hartford Club is far more opulent than my alma mater, my anxiety level was nearly the same when approaching both places. Would it be obvious that I did not belong? I would learn, of course, that there were others like me — first generation college students. First time Hartford Club crashers. Trespassers. There was paperwork proving my right to enter, but still, a trespasser at heart.

I would observe how others moved about, spoke to one another, sat in certain groupings. In both experiences, even when I gained cultural literacy, when I began to blend, I knew that at the end of the day, there was part of me that would never, ever, feel at home. Today, as I walked home from The Hartford Club, it became much more apparent. The achievement gap that was being spoken of was purely academic for much of the audience. It was one thing to talk about discrepancies in performance and economics; it is quite another for these disparities to be palpable. In the Georgian Revival private club on Prospect Street, there is mouthwash in the “ladies lounge.” In my neighborhood, there is litter strewn across the school lawn. The litter has been there all summer long and the school is one of the lowest ranked in Hartford. It remains so, even after being shut down and later reopened as a “new school.” The kids who can not read, who are dropping out, who are creating all the financial burdens we heard about in this morning’s forum — they are not some sad abstract statistic; they are the kids that I pass every time I take a walk around the block.

Slamming the Door on the Achievement Gap

The MetroHartford Alliance forum held at The Hartford Club this morning was titled Hartford Public Schools Education Reform and Next Steps. Presenters included Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Steven J. Adamowski; Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, James L. Starr; and the Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Connecticut, Michael P. Meotti. All speakers addressed the issue of closing Connecticut’s achievement gap.

The very phrase “achievement gap” softens the issue. Education Week explains the achievement gap as:

[…] the disparity in academic performance between groups of students. It is most often used to describe the troubling performance gaps between many African-American and Hispanic students, at the lower end of the performance scale, and their non-Hispanic white peers, and the similar academic disparity between students from low-income and well-off families. The achievement gap shows up in grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college-completion rates. It has become a focal point of education reform efforts.

While National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results have shown that, over time, black and Hispanic students have made great strides in narrowing the breach that separates them from their white peers, that progress seems to have come to a halt since the mid-1980s.

The achievement gap, to put it in more direct terms, refers to the racial and economic disparities in educational outcome. Connecticut has the dishonor of having the greatest achievement gap in all 50 states, based on the NAEP results. The Superintendent stated that there is a 93% poverty rate within the Hartford school district, based on eligibility for free/reduced school lunch. There are correlations between poverty and other social problems: of those in Hartford who have dropped out of school, 60% have been incarcerated. Continue reading “Old School, New School”

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Scenes from the Sidewalk: Installment Seventeen

It’s been awhile. There’s never a shortage of sidewalk debris, but usually, it’s not worth stopping to take a second look at.

A mattress itself is not very interesting. Every week there are piles of mattresses taking up the sidewalk. Between bed bug infestations and an ever-so-mobile society, all manner of furniture decorates the roadside.

Take a closer look.

Who writes on a mattress?! Someone on Hungerford Street.

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A Restroom of One’s Own: Guide to Bathrooms in Downtown Hartford

No matter how you get into the city — whether it’s by foot, bicycle, private automobile, bus, train, taxi, or boat — chances are that you will be confronted with a concern more pressing than where to park. And unlike parking lots and garages, toilets are generally not marked with a bright red and yellow sign.

Some of the bathrooms listed here may be technically “private” or “patron use only.” Years ago I worked at a place that kept its bathrooms locked, requiring employees to unlock them for customers. When this store remodeled, they removed the locks. I am sure that this decision had something to do with the number of times customers would relieve themselves in the hallway when nobody arrived in time to unlock the restroom. If owners enjoy cleaning up human waste, or are able to demand their employees do so, then by all means, keep the doors locked. Any restroom requiring a key or password is not included here, as that’s much too much hassle when in a rush.

Proximity (Can I make it in time?), cleanliness (Was it cleaned since 1985?), and accessibility (Is it on ground level/main floor? Are toilets unlocked during business hours?) are taken into account. These are all places that one can waltz in and out of without pressure to buy anything; no fuss, no muss..better even, no mess.

Suitable Places for a Rest Continue reading “A Restroom of One’s Own: Guide to Bathrooms in Downtown Hartford”

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Tenth Annual Dragon Boat & Asian Festival this Weekend

Note: Due to rain, the Asian Festival has been canceled for Sunday. The Dragon Boat races are still going on as planned.

Festivities began Saturday morning and go until 4 pm. They will resume at 10 on Sunday and continue through 2 in the afternoon.

A record-setting 67 teams are participating in this year’s dragon boat races. Participants range in age and ability. There are corporate teams, athletes, and people who have some sense of humor, giving their teams names like Blazing Paddles and Splashing Tigers, Soaking Dragons,

Besides boat racing, there are musical performances, martial arts demonstrations, cultural booths, vendors, and more.

The two females pictured above were part of the Malee’s School of Tai Chi and Kung Fu  demo on the upper level of the Riverfront Plaza.

Continue reading “Tenth Annual Dragon Boat & Asian Festival this Weekend”

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