Sharing Visions For Hartford

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With Mayor Pedro Segarra having won election in his own right and a new-look city council, we asked local leaders and observers what the city's priorities should be.

BE BOLD, DECISIVE

By RAMANI AYER

No. 1. Be a cheerleader. The capital should be a source of great pride. It has outstanding assets. It is the seat of state government, a headquarters city for many great companies and a center for major health care institutions and nonprofits.

No. 2. Be bold and decisive. Make tough decisions, make them fast and make them early. Reduce the city pension and other government costs so we can lighten the tax burden on businesses.

No. 3. Attract more businesses into the city. Keep the ones you have and encourage them to expand. Make it easy for them to do so. Address the vacancy issue. Reverse it before it kills you.

No. 4. Close the educational achievement gap. Build on the recent gains in student performance on standardized tests. Hartford must outpace the state average for student improvement. Establish more schools with diverse learning models. Increase graduation rates. Be an advocate for parent involvement.

No. 5. Create a vibrant downtown by increasing available housing for young professionals. Make it safe, walkable and enjoyable. Exploit the XL Center. Stress livability efforts, target blight, roll out the red carpet.

No. 6. Make it safe. Families should want to live, work and play, companies to expand and suburbanites to visit. Clean up the snow, so the winters are bearable.

Ramani Ayer, former chairman and CEO of The Hartford, is on the board of the Connecticut Council For Educational Reform and is chairman of the board of Hartford HealthCare.

ATTACK HUNGER, POVERTY

By DONNA BERMAN

It's hard to talk or think about much else other than the October snowstorm and its aftermath. Perhaps the storm can be our teacher and provide a vision of where Hartford needs to be going. After all, the storm and the power outages that ensued gave those of us who live with privilege the opportunity to see just how difficult it is to work, study or go about business as usual when we are hungry, sleeping in the cold, and worried about where we will get a hot meal or water to drink or a warm shower.

The mayor should seize the moment, before memory fades, galvanize the community and wage an all-out campaign to end hunger and poverty in Hartford. There are so many people in our capital city for whom the deprivation we all just experienced is a reality, not just for a few days, but every day.

Making Hartford ever more attractive to businesses, corporations and suburbanites is a worthwhile enterprise that will ultimately lift us all up, but "ultimately" is a long way away when you are cold and have nothing to eat. The mayor and the city council should make it their top priority to think creatively and act boldly to end the suffering of Hartford's poorest residents now.

Tree limbs are not the only things broken; our system is broken and the mayor and the city council -- along with all of us -- must fix it. To do so would be the long-overdue restoration of power for which we have all been waiting.

Donna Berman is executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center.

CONNECT CULTURAL ASSETS

By STEVE CAMPO

If the question is: "What will make downtown Hartford wonderful?" the answer is simple: The iQuilt plan.

This plan, begun by the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, will connect about 45 of the city's cultural assets and public spaces with pedestrian and bicycle routes.

So many of Hartford's gems now seem somehow forlorn, lost in a dark setting of macadam and overshadowing office towers.

But, with extravagant swaths of green and resurrected waterways, The iQuilt Plan will weave existing destinations into a unifying fabric from the Capitol and Bushnell Park to the Connecticut River. Enhancements of the area will add to its allure.

An enveloping sense of safety will be found in its fundamental vocabulary: nature and other people. The human scale will triumph over the gargantuan.

And the walk that once seemed an inconvenience will become a sweet indulgence.

Steve Campo is founder and executive director of TheaterWorks.

IMPROVE PUBLIC PLACES

By TONI GOLD

Mayor Pedro Segarra received a resounding mandate at the polls, his first since becoming an accidental replacement mayor a year and a half ago. An interesting and revitalized city council was elected as well. In return, they owe voters a dramatic vision for Hartford and a vigorous effort to realize it.

That vision should be built around place and community-based economic development, which plays to our competitive advantages: a city that is small and thus easily walkable and bikable, historic and beautiful, and rich in the arts, and in its ethnic, population and culinary diversity.

This means taking dramatic steps to make the public realm -- the streets, sidewalks and public spaces -- more of a community gathering place. That is more green, comfortable, pedestrian and bike-friendly, and much less auto-centric, by adding transit, especially streetcars, to the mix.

An expensive and romantic vision perhaps? But thriving and prosperous cities are rooted in economic reality because they have distinction and character. As Ada Louise Huxtable, urbanist and former New York Times architecture critic put it:

"It is just those 'uneconomic' assets of history and style that must be used as the basis of rebuilding to achieve the kind of vitality and interest that attract the sort of money and activity that add up to the elusive creation of an attractive urban life."

Inspiring confidence is the city's stellar performance during the recent storm due to the efficiencies of urban densities and infrastructure, and the substantial power of large and professional public works, fire and police departments. In other words, Hartford is already not only a beautiful and interesting place to live, but a convenient and safe one as well. Build on that.

Toni Gold is a transportation consultant, a member of the board of the Connecticut Main Street Center, and a member of the Place Advisory Board.

LEARNING KEY TO VITALITY

By JAMES F. JONES Jr.

An educated city is a vibrant city, and there is no doubt that Hartford's future is closely tied to the educational opportunities -- kindergarten through college -- it offers its citizens.

To that end, I am pleased to congratulate Mayor Pedro Segarra on his election, particularly as one of his key campaign issues was the need to improve city schools. I stand with the mayor in his desire to strengthen this all-important resource, and I call on him to make education a cornerstone of his work in the next four years.

Analyze any successful city, and you will discover that one essential element of its strength is a substantial middle class -- people whose educational levels and financial resources enable them to build businesses, volunteer for the community good and participate in the arts.

The key to elevating and attracting this population is quality education. There is no more powerful instrument for ensuring the future of our city than strong educational institutions working together to provide the best education for our children.

Much of what we need is already in place. Greater Hartford is home to more than a half-dozen colleges and universities, many of which have already formed partnerships with Hartford schools, and there is a desire in all quarters to improve the city's public education.

My vision for our future includes expanded linkages among all these elements to create an environment in which the needs of business, the medical community, the arts, neighborhoods and families are met through collaborations that make Hartford a center for learning and living.

James F. Jones Jr. is president of Trinity College and Trinity College professor in the humanities.

VISITING IN 2020

By PAMELA TROTMAN REID

As I look into the future of downtown Hartford, I see people picnicking in Bushnell Park while children enjoy the carousel and playground. Tourists are clicking photos of the historic sites and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's new wing. Professionals are shopping at the Farmers Market in Traveler's Square. And folks are browsing kiosks that line the park, hoping to get a bargain on Hartford memorabilia.

Students from Saint Joseph College School of Pharmacy hurry back to class after their lunch break. Other students head off to the new downtown mall. In the mall a thriving wellness center provides affordable health services.

Hartford in 2020 has met the challenge of providing housing for these budding professionals. Residential areas have attracted people to live and work in the city. The mayor of Hartford has emulated the successes of Chicago and other urban areas by creating a welcome environment for all.

Imagine the excitement when the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education receives a gift from the city -- a vacant lot on which to build a residence hall. The governor, who wants to encourage this public-private partnership, matched the city's gift with a bond to launch a project bringing Saint Joe's and other universities together to build housing for students and faculty -- creating the synergy for retail and other activities to follow.

Hartford, our capital, has become an urban campus, a vibrant metropolis and a destination for citizens as it moves into the future with confidence and positive energy.

Pamela Trotman Reid is president of Saint Joseph College.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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