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May 18, 2015 Other Voices

Where are you going, Hartford?

Anthony Price

Mary Ann Evans, better known by her nom de plume George Eliot, said, “It's never too late to be what you might have been.” What is it that Hartford could have been and still can be? This question should get the synapses in the brain firing with endless possibilities, especially if one is an optimist.

On the other hand, the same question in the mind of a pessimist is reason to spew vitriol at the Capital City. Perhaps it is deserved because Hartford sits so close to Boston and New York City. Both cities seem to manufacture news that makes Nutmeggers feel inferior.

We are Hartford, whether we live in the city or in the neighboring suburbs. This is a region. We are Hartford. Let's get comfortable with that last sentence. Say it again. We are Hartford. Let it resonate in your whole being.

This city of nearly 125,000 is an orphan because few in the suburbs claim it. But truth be told, there's some Hartford in all of us. Admit it. It was in Hartford that you were rejected by a lover, a fancy school turned you down, or the promotion with the corner office and raise never came. Disappointment is a familiar friend in an unstable world.

The New England Patriots promised to come, but never did. The Hartford Whalers moved. Now a new baseball team is coming to town, named… wait for it… the Yard Goats. As Don King said, only in America.

Yes, over the years, a plethora of visions have espoused this or that new Hartford, but nothing has stuck or captured the heart of the public — i.e. the suburbanites, the people expected to be wowed while they sip their Starbucks caramel macchiato or wait in line for Apple's newest must-have gadget at the mall.

There is a shelf somewhere in the ether burdened with economic development plans full of visions. Shelves are sagging, groaning, ready to topple from the weight of lofty expectations, sitting in the graveyards of plans.

Some view Hartford as the city they begrudgingly work in. There's no disputing the fact that Hartford is the region's workplace. Metro Hartford Progress Points reports that of the 121,000 jobs in Hartford, 82 percent are filled by commuters. These commuters battle the morning rush-hour traffic like salmon swimming upstream.

The plight of the daily commuters evokes the movie, “Groundhog Day.” In the movie, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a conceited Pittsburgh TV weatherman. Connors is assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pa. Suddenly, Connors finds himself stuck in a bizarre time trap where every day is the same, over and over. After having some fun in the time trap, he is forced to look at his life and reexamine his priorities. We need to do the same.

Before we go forward with creating a unified vision of a utopian Hartford, let's look back at the city's thriving past. Hartford is one of the oldest cities in America and has a rich history dating back to its heyday in the late 1880s when it was a manufacturing powerhouse with Samuel Colt and later Pratt & Whitney. In1810, The Hartford Fire Insurance Co. was the state's first publicly owned insurance company to receive a charter from the Connecticut General Assembly. Roughly nine years later, The Aetna Fire Insurance Company opened for business.

Hartford needs to rethink its priorities. We need a plan to eliminate the treadmill of poverty that continues generation after generation, branding the city as poor. Poverty shouldn't be a scarlet letter. The majority of us are a layoff or major medical expense away from financial ruin. In fact, Metro Hartford Progress Points indicates that the highest increase in poverty is in the suburbs. The vision for the future should promise a job or training to everyone.

The city should be a place of hope for its 82 percent minority population. To waste the human potential of any person is foolish. But to subject an entire generation to poverty is unconscionable. We can, and should, do better. If we continue down the path we are going, another generation in Hartford will be doomed to a life of poverty, prison, hopelessness, and worse, death. The suburbs are in danger as well.

Hartford, what is your vision that will entice people and prosperity? Let's create a vision we all can be proud of and then work toward it. Once there is consensus, we must lay down our mobile devices and join the fight against poverty. Let's change the script for Hartford before it's too late — when the freeways are packed with people leaving the city and the region. 

Anthony Price is an economic development professional working in Hartford.

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