In a press conference that many believed to be a public forum, residents had no shortage of questions about the new Community Quality of Life Initiative. Following the presentation, one community member quietly said, “Haven’t we done this before? Business as usual.”
Others shared her belief that this initiative is little more than a repackaged version of what our community has already been doing for decades: talking.
The Community Quality of Life Initiative is a collaboration between Hartford 2000 (the coalition of Hartford’s 13 neighborhood revitalization), the Mayor’s Office, Hartford Police Department, City Council, Community Court of Hartford, Hartford Public Library, City Departments, and “other stakeholders.” Three conversations are at the core of this initiative. Unlike this morning’s media presentation, these are intended for the general public.
The purpose of these meetings, Jackie McKinney, Co-Chair of Hartford 2000, said, is to “maximize usefulness of neighborhood standards,” to give residents a voice in regulations. The conversations are scheduled for August and September, with one each in the north, central, and south sections of the city; when asked how these divisions were decided, it was said that they followed how the Hartford Police Department generally divide Hartford. Alice Leibowitz, who will be helping to facilitate these conversations, said residents are encouraged to attend the meeting closest to their own neighborhood.
McKinney says the intention is to have annual conversations about community standards.
Through social media and face-to-face interaction, similar conversations have been ongoing, just in no organized or official capacity. While some argue that fireworks are not worth cracking down on, others would like to see issues like trash incineration be included under the umbrella of “quality of life.”
Oz Griebel, CEO of MetroHartford Alliance, said of the initiative: “it’s making sure that people feel comfortable here.”
Little Things, Big Difference
Chief Rovella said that while he focuses on preparing neighborhoods for worst case scenarios, the most routine complaints are those involving “loitering, littering, cars, noise.” He says, “the small things in life make a big difference.”
That one person’s loud, illegal light show is another person’s PTSD-triggering hell was acknowledged and is the point of these conversations. Richard Frieder, the Director of Community Development & Civic Engagement at the Hartford Public Library, said “quality of life can be defined in any variety of ways.”
It’s up to residents to create those definitions.
Mayor Segarra said that a “portion of our community” has become “disheartened” and even “apathetic” toward City government. Though the government remains involved in this initiative, the intent is that it will be adopted by community members after having these conversations.
Councilperson Kyle Anderson, Chair of the Quality of Life Committee, said “we’ve gotta take it from outta these walls and implement it.”
Alternatives to Law Enforcement
Leibowitz explained that these meetings with help residents learn ways to deal with quality of life issues that do not always involve the police. She said the discussions will help people learn, for example, “how to talk to neighbors one-on-one if a dog is barking too loud.”
Right now, alternatives to law enforcement involvement are not always effective. While residents have been encouraged to call 311 and make use of the NRZs, the former has mixed results and the latter is often too weak to rely upon. Deputy Chief Emory Hightower, Jr. said not to bother with 311 for certain concerns– call the police directly and keep calling.
Chief Rovella said he has six officers dedicated to just this initiative this summer.
Included in the initiative is emphasis on the “Neighborhood Standards” adopted by City Council in 2011. To date, I have only seen these standards distributed in press kits. When asked about this, Linda Bayer, the Civic Engagement Consultant for Hartford 2000, said these standards had been distributed to the NRZs, but not all of these organizations passed along the guidelines to residents or businesses.
One member of the public said he felt the Neighborhood Standards handout came “across as incredibly punitive.”
It was explained that this document was mostly a springboard for residents in the conversations, but it does also serve as a guide for police when they are asked to enforce codes. The overview of the document outlines the general expectations:
This overview is further broken down in English and Spanish to describe the penalties and legal citations. Parking vehicles on lawns or sidewalks can result in fines of up to $250 per day. Keeping derelict cars on one’s own property can result in a fine of $99 per day. Riding pocket bikes or ATVs on streets, sidewalks, or other public property can result in a fine, referral to Hartford Community Court and/or a jail sentence of up to 25 days. The list goes on to include snow shoveling, picking up after pets, controlling pets, and drinking alcohol in public, to name a few items covered in the Neighborhood Standards.
But quality of life goes beyond these nuisances. One community member at the press conference wanted to know why hazardous waste collections take place on school property. If there is some kind of contamination, he said, the most vulnerable population would be affected. Segarra responded that these collections have taken place on school grounds for some time and he did not know what the reasoning was for it, but he would pass along the concern.
Another resident, Susan Reynolds, asked when the police would begin stopping and ticketing drivers who go through red lights, particularly when pedestrian walk signals are activated. Chief Rovella said that “traffic enforcement is a quality of life issue.”
The community conversations are scheduled:
- August 10, 2013 — North District
- August 24, 2013 — Central District
- September 7, 2013 — Southern District
Locations of these meetings have not yet been finalized, but are planned for spaces within each “district.”