“More events in Goodwin, Colt, and Keney Park”
“Ice skating in more parks”
“Enough with the iQuilt already!”
“The old Taste of Hartford…when all the restaurants had booths on Constitution Plaza”
A full house of residents did not hesitate to say and write down what they thought Hartford’s parks could use. The Capital City Parks Master Plan‘s timeline involves several public forums, stakeholder meetings, and an online survey in the near future. Thursday night’s public meeting at the library was the first; two more meetings are planned for August and September. There will be intermittent stakeholder meetings.
With a steering committee, consultants, and engineers on hand, the first meeting was what Tom Deller, City of Hartford’s Director of Development Services, called an attempt to “understand what we have, what we need . . . and how to improve it.”
“It’s important that we hear your concerns,” he said.
But some residents, having been through similar processes with projects like the iQuilt, were skeptical about how much their input mattered, saying they’ll believe it when they see it. A common perception of the iQuilt is that it exists to serve those who wish to maintain parking lots along Capitol Avenue, and not much else. This remains to be seen, but with its focus on the central business district and none of the neighborhoods beyond, it’s easy to see how residents might hesitate to rally behind it and similar projects.
Thursday’s meeting, unlike those connected to the downtown-centric project, had far more diversity in its participants.
After a presentation about the city’s parks’ histories and information about how Hartford fits in with national trends, attendees moved around four stations — “Parks,” “History & Vision,” “Programs & Events,” and “Connectivity” — to talk about Hartford’s 61 park spaces. After some conversation, they were encouraged to write their top three (or four, depending on who was moderating discussion) ideas on triangular cards, blank on one side, wearing the image of one of Hartford’s parks on the other.
What was deemed a park could be confusing. For instance, Turning Point Park — a space squatted by Occupy Hartford activists — has “no trespassing” signs in several spots, all added after Occupiers had named the park and were dramatically evicted. Can something be considered a park if nobody is supposed to step foot there?
At the same time, Pope Park North was included, listed under its nickname, “Baby Pope Park.”
There was also at least one planned park included on the maps: Burnham Park. This would be accessible from Granby Street, straddling the Bloomfield border.
The danger with hiring firms from outside the area is that trusting them to listen to residents is necessary. While some of the moderators seemed to be merely going through the motions with this activity, others were clued in enough to know exactly what was wrong with Baby Pope, for instance, as soon as its name was mentioned.
In the slide show that preceded small group discussion, participants were told that there were no bocce courts in Hartford, nor were there any dog parks. The national average for the latter is four in a city of this size. Residents were also given details on how Hartford measured up in terms of basketball and tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, and picnic shelters. In iQuilt forums, it was clear that participants were being led to request things like book stalls and a constructed river; in such meetings, they were given cards with these options pre-printed upon them. Thursday’s parks’ meeting opened the floor, letting people say what they wanted:
Theater in more parks
A community garden in Keney Park
Organized and self-guided tours in parks
More cooking grills
Enforcement of leash laws
A city swim team
Institutions adjacent to parks should help maintain them
Return portions of Keney and Goodwin Parks to Prairie and Woodland
Restore historic fence around South Green
A perennial concern is how to keep ATVs and motorcycles out of the parks. They can be seen in all parks, including Bushnell Park. Some residents thought a creative solution to this would be to provide them with a sanctioned place to ride, like in the sand dunes at Keney Park. The flaw in this is that the Matianuck Sand Dunes are a natural preserve. The idea could be transferred to a different spot, but would need to be accompanied by other enforcements to keep the bikes off city streets. As a whole, this is not unlike providing a designated space for graffiti or skateboarding– a space where youth, especially, would have an outlet.
There was a call for more rangers, like what we have along the Riverfront. Patricia E. Kelly of the Ebony Horsewomen said that the unofficial rangers — Junior Mounted Patrol — that ride through Keney Park have seen some success. There’s more respect for, and fear of, horses. On one occasion, she said, the Junior Mounted Patrol chased ATVs out of Keney Park.
Residents wanted to see Hartford’s history boosted, with more attention given to Olmsted, Stevens, and Pope. Whenever history is the focus, someone calls for a revival of trolleys. This time, there was also a request for carriages.
According to Kelly of the Ebony Horsewomen, there will be carriage rides coming to Keney Park in September.
The common thread among participants: don’t start something only to drop it in two years.
What would you like to see happen with Hartford’s parks and open spaces?