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August 18, 2014 SUMMER SERIES: HARTFORD IN 2024

Millennials must grow with city

PHOTO | Pablo Robles Caitlin Thayer, 28, who lives in Hartford's Union Place apartments, also operates her business and works for Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs downtown. When working with nonprofit clients on social media campaigns, Thayer keeps her fees low to help organization's maximize their mission. “It is not just about the money,” she said.
Julie Meehan, 31, executive director, Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs
TJ Clynch, 29, founder, Civic Mind

Millennials have to grow up sometime. The question is: Will Hartford be able to keep them in the city as they get older?

Many of Hartford's economic development efforts are focused on Millennials' preferences, particularly construction of new apartments to attract those who want to live and work in an urban area.

That housing caters to young professionals with studio, one bedroom, and even micro apartments.

That is all well and good while Millennials are in their 20s and early 30s, but as they get married and have children, that housing stock will no longer accommodate them.

That creates a significant challenge if Hartford hopes to create more long-term residents who develop a true sense of place and commitment to the city, said Julie Meehan, 31, executive director of the business group Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs, who lives in downtown Hartford.

“Personally, in my own circle of friends, there are people who want to stay in the city,” Meehan said. “We need something bigger, and right now, we just don't have that.”

For Hartford's downtown renewal, the city must grow organically with residents, said Kristina Newman-Scott, the city's marketing, events, and cultural affairs director.

More than just adding two- and three-bedroom apartments, that organic growth means creating a sense of place for the city's residents, Newman-Scott said, so they don't move to the suburbs as they transition through later stages in life.

“People are more interested in being part of a downtown core,” Newman-Scott said. “Once they want to stay, they will want to find a two-bedroom or three-bedroom in their city.”

As Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, they don't have the same negative feelings about Hartford as previous generations, who saw it as a dangerous place that must be avoided, said TJ Clynch, 29, founder of Hartford marketing firm Civic Mind.

“The current generation of Millennials doesn't hate Hartford,” Clynch said. “We don't have that baggage.”

As a result, Millennials are more comfortable visiting and living in some of Hartford's more ethnically diverse neighborhoods, which are more built-out than downtown, Newman-Scott said. Neighborhoods like Parkville, Frog Hollow, and the West End already have a diverse array of housing and businesses like restaurants and retailers and even some amenities downtown lacks, like grocery stores.

“A strong downtown leads to more vibrancy in neighborhoods, but our neighborhoods are already strong,” Newman-Scott said. “Our neighborhoods are way more successful than downtown in terms of vibrancy.”

That pride in knowing someplace that others might overlook is important to Millennials' sense of place and how they want to contribute to their communities, said Michelle Cote, 33, programs director for Hartford's reSET, an incubator and co-working space. “People want to belong to the community they live and work in,” Cote said.

That sense of belonging can even extend to people who live outside Hartford, Cote added.

“To some people, living here is super important to their sense of place,” Cote said. “To others, there is just a sense of familiarity and sensibility with it, so even if they live in the suburbs, they still feel like they know Hartford.”

Efforts to boost community pride carry over to the products made by Millennial startups like Hartford Prints!, whose stationary, T-shirts, and accessories feature local sayings like “Hart Beat” to draw attention to the Capital City and the state. A main slogan of Hartford Prints!, which has a Pratt Street storefront, is “Small State Big Heart.”

“We have a very long-term view of growing our business through growing the city,” said Callie Gale Heilmann, 32, Prints! cofounder. “Every storefront on this street should be filled, and that would be helpful for the store and the city.”

Their stronger ties to the Hartford community leads Millennials to patronize small businesses, eat local foods, keep the city clean, and add to the overall vibrancy of Hartford, Clynch said. That includes becoming community leaders.

“The most important thing that Millennials can do right now is get involved in politics. We need younger, smarter people” Clynch said.

Millennials want to move quickly to make change happen, a desire that permeates every aspect of their lives, from corporate culture to politics, said Caitlin Thayer, 28, founder of Barefoot Media in downtown.

“We are fast-movers. We learn quickly. We talk quickly,” she said.

Even though Hartford is perceived as a place between New York City and Boston, it is more affordable to live in. An influx of Millennials presents a new opportunity for the city to grow and improve, Newman-Scott said.

The input of more young, creative minds can lead to Hartford finding better solutions to homelessness, poverty, and graffiti, Newman-Scott added, especially with Millennials' need to give purpose and meaning to their lives through community involvement.

“If Hartford could attract those types of people, can you imagine what we can accomplish in 10 years?” Newman-Scott said.

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