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Archive for August, 2008

West Hartford Posts Competitive SAT Scores for 2008

Posted by whforums on August 31, 2008

The courant has a blog post about the release of 2008 SAT scores, and West Hartford posted SAT scores well above state average. You can access all state scores via a PDF from the State Department of Education here.

The cynics will point out that West Hartford did not score as well as some DRG mates (12th out of 16, though essentially tied for 11th). A look at scores by our DRG:

Avon: 1729
Greenwich: 1711
Madison: 1705
Simsbury: 1703
Glastonbury: 1696
Farmington: 1690
Fairfield: 1666
Guilford: 1623
Newtown: 1619
Granby: 1617
South Windsor: 1604
West Hartford: 1599
New Fairfield: 1570
Brookfield: 1568
Monroe: 1567
Trumbull: 1560
State Average: 1516

.

I would point out that West Hartford outscored every school in its immediate economic subgroup (as measured by free/reduced lunch). A quick look at that group reveals:

West Hartford: 1599
Wethersfield: 1521
Plainville: 1520
State Average: 1516
Newington: 1495

In other words, I reach the same conclusion I reached in this post. The best districts will generally be the moneyed districts (and the districts with the lowest instances of poverty), but when you measure West Hartford against districts with similar poverty rates, our test scores reflect a high quality curriculum that provides a significantly above average college prep education. What’s interesting about these test scores is that the SAT itself is optional, whereas the CAPT is required — I’ll run some numbers at some point this week to investigate how West Hartford stacks up against other districts in terms of encouraging its students to take college entrance examinations.

Posted in SAT Scores, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Just Because Your House Wasn’t in a Flood Plain Yesterday …

Posted by whforums on August 26, 2008

According to a release on the town’s list-serve (list-serves are so … PINE) FEMA has declared that about 160 West Hartford properties that were not in a flood plain yesterday are in a flood plain today.  In other words, everything is the same as it was yesterday, but now you may be required to pay for flood insurance (on the upside, maybe you can get a lower assessed value on your home and relieve some of your tax burden.  I guess that upside kinda sucks, too).

The town provides this link to a FEMA site where you can enter your home address to see if your house is one of the few impacted.  As fair warning, I tried the link twice.  The first time it crashed my browser and the second time I got access to the map, but had some real trouble zooming in to see anything (thanks, FEMA).

Because the town is part of the National Flood Insurance Program, impacted homeowners can receive a 10 percent discount on their new flood insurance premiums if they contact an insurance agent by 9/26.  Letters go out to impacted homeowners today (8/27).

Good story on the situation in the Courant here

Posted in Federal Government, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Simmer Out of The Center

Posted by whforums on August 24, 2008

Was wandering the Center this weekend and noticed not only that Simmer was dark, but that there was a “Closed” sign hanging on the front door. Did some poking around in the tubes and found that the West Hartford location has disappeared from the Simmer homepage, too.

I’m kind of sad to see Simmer go — their location wasn’t great, but the few times my wife and I ate there we enjoyed our meals enough to say “We should come here more often” (we also in part said that because we feared this eventuality — Simmer, despite its terrific food and service, was often startlingly empty).

If you need your Simmer fix, you can still trek out to Canton. Now we can start wondering about whether another restaurant will have the courage to enter the crowded West Hartford market in Simmer’s previous location …

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , | 14 Comments »

“Mixed Use” Development and The Means of Forgetting

Posted by whforums on August 20, 2008

You’ll have to forgive me if it seems this post is piggy-backing on the conversation that’s happening over at Talk of West Hartford (an ongoing discussion about the successes and failures of BBS) – I was going to add another comment over there, but the more I wrote, the more it seemed clear this was going to be its own post.

It seems to me BBS begs a larger question than its parking garages (or even its own success or failure – which, let’s face it – we’re not going to adequately judge after the short gestation of nine months). And, though I don’t think a lot of you are going to like what I’m about to write, the question BBS begs is a regional and ethical question.

I caught some justified flack in response to my post about the Hartford shootings – people said that my call for greater regional responsibility was long on rhetoric and emotion and short on concrete ideas. And I think that’s true – when I wrote what I wrote, I was sorting through my own emotional reaction more than I was proposing solutions. I’m a critic, I’m a “feeling perceiver,” but I’m no politician – proposing solutions isn’t my strongest suit.

But as I’ve continued to sort, in my own mind, the disparity in dialog between West Hartford’s concerns (the cost of parking garages) and Hartford’s concerns (poverty and its consequences), one thing suffocates me – the energy West Hartford spends in its public spaces (everywhere from Blue Back Square to this blog) to create what amounts to a “Hartford amnesia.”

Blue Back Square makes a sound example of this. BBS was marketed as “mixed use development,” and it certainly is mixed use development. It’s shopping, living and it’s gathering – it’s your 21st century plaza, awash in brand and capital. And while I’m not always so crazy about capitalism, I’m willing to accept BBS for what it is. But in so doing, what BBS hides – or worse, what BBS encourages us to forget about, as we talk about it or walk through it — is that, as a new development, it has a social and ethical role beyond its own borders that it does not seem to be fulfilling. In other words, by mixing its properties and zoning, and by labeling itself “mixed use,” Blue Back Square actively encourages us to forget just how not mixed it is in the context of its region. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that BBS was not designed with economic diversity in mind – but we seem to gloss over this essential problem in our dialog about it. As much as we talk about taxes and garages and LED lights, the greatest problem with Blue Back Square is that it lacks the economic and human diversity that will ultimately help the entire region grapple with the segregation poverty induces.

That all seems somewhat roundabout. We know who BBS is for, and that’s fine. We know who can live there and who can shop there, and that’s fine. I have nothing against those who do, and I’m not on any high horse – I’ve spent money at Blue Back Square, too. But I would challenge the town of West Hartford to make its next development project – its next mixed use project – a smart growth project. I would challenge the Town of West Hartford to make its next development project a project that welcomes economic and social diversity by making housing affordable and by making the focus of that development not its jeans stores or restaurants (which it may very well have) but rather the opportunity of access that is the bedrock of our ideals. It’s not that I don’t understand that development is more about money than ethics – it’s that I’m demanding that we begin to more seriously consider the ethical, democratic, human and regional implications of our development. In the end, it’s not about who we’re inviting in to what we develop – it’s about the passive, invisible and too often forgotten discrimination against who we’re keeping out.

West Hartford, Blue Back Square, and our bickering about it, is missing the point. The greatest problem isn’t the cost of the garages (though, as time goes on, that may prove to be a problem), the problem is that the development we undertook, by the nature of its exclusivity, induces an amnesia about the problems of our region and our own responsibilities in their light.

Posted in Blue Back Square, Ethics, Regionalism, West Hartford | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Monday Morning Pet Peeve

Posted by whforums on August 18, 2008

Ok, so this is a minor “thing” in the grand scope of “things,” but it drives me fracking crazy. It maybe also illuminates a certain lack of neighborliness (“Where city style meets village charm,” etc.).

You know how Main Street, traveling “south,” narrows once your cross over Farmington Avenue? That stretch of Main Street in front of Breuggers, and Friendly’s, and Lemon Grass? People — it’s a one lane road. I understand the merge sign is way back before the Farmington Avenue intersection, and I understand that the fact that it’s a merge gets buried in all of our mutual consciousnesses by the activity of the Center itself. But the fact that the fracking road fracking narrows should serve as a fracking reminder to form one fracking line! Gah!

And you people who are double parking in that stretch — not that you’re really double parking, more hovering for a spot — well, you’re on my list now, too. And while I’m at it — could we all be a little nicer to the poor folks who get hung out to dry trying to make a left from Farmington onto Main? All the time I see one lone car, trapped in the intersection …

And don’t even get me started on the people who leave their fracking shopping carts in the middle of the fracking aisle in the grocery store. I guess that’s more of a Sunday night pet peeve …

Posted in Pet Peeves, West Hartford, West Hartford Center | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Town Council Proposes Moving Second Budget Referendum to November Fourth

Posted by whforums on August 13, 2008

The Bare Fact

In a remarkable turn of political gamesmanship, the Town Council last night proposed delaying the September 30th budget referendum by 36 days to November 4th, the date of the general (and presidential) election.

Defending September 30th

I should really start from the beginning, because the rhetoric surrounding the proposal is as careful as it is dismaying. Early in the meeting, Judy Aron argued that the date of the September 30th referendum should not be changed even though it falls on Rosh Hashanah. Aron argued that absentee ballots could be distributed and that amending the town charter would set dangerous precedent.

The October 7th Proposal (or, The Red Herring)

Soon thereafter, cloaking himself in the claim that everyone should have equal access to the polls, Mayor Slifka argued that there was legal precedent (from a case in Rhode Island, no less) to postpone the referendum because of Rosh Hashanah. Slifka proposed that the referendum be delayed until October 7th (one week after the original date) – a reasonable compromise and one that may still come to fruition.

The 30 Thousand Dollar Excuse

It’s the series of events that happened next that’s simply remarkable. Slifka argued that because special elections cost the town 30 thousand dollars per election, the town could save money by petitioning the legislature (while they’re in special session) for permission to consolidate our voting by moving our referendum from September 30th to November 4th, the date of the general election. In a surprise (though seemingly orchestrated) move, councilman Joe Visconti, who most would identify as a WHTA supporter and “No” voter, agreed that the November 4th referendum date – a date clearly advantageous to the “Yes” vote – was a good idea, despite the fact that it represents a 36 day delay from the date our charter appoints.

The Analysis

It seems pretty clear what Slifka and Visconti get out of this deal. If the special session of the legislature approves a November 4th referendum, Slifka gets a referendum vote on a day when “Yes” voters are far more likely to be at the polls. I think there’s little dispute that a referendum on November 4th and a referendum on October 7th would lead to significantly different vote totals. Meanwhile, Visconti, who is running for the US House against John Larson, gets a bump from the “No” vote that turns out to vote on the referendum. West Hartford is a significant get in the first district, and while the odds are slim that Visconti will win West Hartford, a surge of “No” turnout will likely help him to establish a more credible number of total votes in a campaign that’s largely a lost cause.

This referendum, which is designed to be a tool of the people, will become a tool of our politicians.

The part that gets me the most? The council unanimously approved the delay of the referendum to the seventh of October with the possible 36 day delay to the date of the general election.

The politics of this is really smart. Unfortunately, its intelligence is at the expense and manipulation of our local democracy.

Posted in 2008 Election, Referendum, West Hartford, West Hartford Town Council | Tagged: , | 20 Comments »

define: politicize

Posted by whforums on August 12, 2008

Up in the air. It’s not a bird, or a plane … it’s a different kind of hero. It’s your whole Town Council, swooping in not to save you, but your leaves.

According to this morning’s Courant, on the morning of our first Town Council meeting in a good long while, everybody’s falling all over themselves to be the savior of leaf pickup in West Hartford.

Visconti and Adler have authored a resolution to bring leaf pickup back to West Hartford — supposedly because they’re listening to the people, but at least in part because they’re trying to score political points.

Slifka in turn has been negotiating with a contractor to lower the price of leaf pickup to make it suddenly affordable. Supposedly because he’s listening to the people, but at least in part because he’s trying to score political points.

Leon Davidoff has supposedly taken a middle ground, saying “I’m just looking to get from A to Z on this; I’m not interested in politicizing it.” In other words, rather than politicizing the “hot button issue” of leaf pickup, Davidoff is positioning himself as the non-politicizing councilperson, and in so doing he has politicized the act of non-politicizing (which is better than politicizing leaf pickup, but I think that’s what I’m supposed to think).

Mercy, people. I don’t need you to be my hero. You know what? If you’d stop making me feel so manipulated, I probably wouldn’t even need you to pick up my leaves …

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Town Council | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Hartford Shootings and a New Regionalism

Posted by whforums on August 11, 2008

It’s been an unfortunately common summer theme for the city of Hartford – a series of shootings alarms the city and the general metro region, and we have about two weeks of outrage. Then, as other news stories seep through the filter of our day to day consciousness, our outrage about crime in Hartford is channeled elsewhere to the degree that we too often find ourselves passive receptors of language like “another shooting in Hartford last night.” Worse, we don’t just hear the words/phrases “violence” and “inner-city” – we accept them. After all, if I told you there was a place in Hartford county where 110 people have been shot since January, where else would it be? Of course “the problem is in Hartford.”

The real problem here isn’t just our own passivity and latent prejudices – it’s that the consequence of that passivity and prejudice is too often dehumanization. The crime becomes “another shooting in Hartford” in part because the residents of the North End are vague abstractions too many suburbanites know by nothing more than their ghost. And this dehumanization – this idea that the violence happens to “other people” — makes it very easy for the suburbs to disown it. The shootings happen on TV, they happen on the radio, they happen in the paper and on the web – but they don’t happen to “us.”

Well you know what, West Hartford? It’s time that we start taking greater responsibility for our community – not just our town. It’s time that we admit that, as a generally wealthy suburb of Hartford, we’re a driving force behind the economic segregation that creates so many of Hartford’s problems. It’s time that we begin to pursue regional solutions to regional problems. We have for too long ignored (or worse, taken for granted) the passive segregation (and some would argue the active segregation) of our communities.

The aim of this blog is to help enable local conversations about local problems – to give more people a space to constructively argue about the real problems West Hartford faces. And West Hartford does face real problems. Our referendum matters. But that doesn’t change that fact that, this weekend, only seven miles from our Town Hall, a child in a stroller was shot.

The danger of thinking too locally is acquiescence – when we give in to the seemingly natural political forces that divide our region, you and I are enabling the non-regional thinking that continues to undercut the equality upon which our democracy subsists. We may not pay taxes to the city of Hartford (and imagine the complaints about mill rates then), but we are the daughters and sons of this city nonetheless. And until we admit our own culpability in Hartford’s problems – until we own up to the economic segregation of Hartford county and begin to engage in real conversation about ways to consolidate our mutual strengths in the face of our mutual weaknesses — the regional thinking we so direly need will remain that horizon we walk only so far toward.

And that’s the question that lurks behind all of this weekend’s news reports for me: How far is West Hartford willing to go toward a regional solution to Hartford’s violence? After years of sprawl and flight, perhaps it’s time for consolidations that highlight the fact that how we govern is based on borders that are often artificial and always long ago declared.

Posted in Regionalism, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Blog/Meeting Roundup, 8/11/08

Posted by whforums on August 11, 2008

Talk of West Hartford posted on the resignation of Town Manager Jim Francis last week and the post and comments seem worth response. Ron Van Winkle steps in as interim Town Manager.

On the Courant’s Greater Hartford Blog, Rachel Gottlieb reports that the West Hartford food pantry is low on food after seeing a surge in need. Leave your donations in the lobby of town hall.

No. Seriously. Leave them there.

Town Council meets tomorrow night (8/12) at 7:30, preceded by public hearings (note the word hearing there, people) starting at 6:15. Some interesting stuff on the meeting agenda (.pdf), including items #8 (certifying the second referendum), #13 (movie theater/alcohol conversation) and #32 (resolution to restore vacuum leaf pickup).

I guess the Board of Ed. met on 8/4 and I totally missed it. Can anyone report?

We’ll have a post later today about the relationship (existent and “should be existing”) between suburb and city in light of the nine eleven shootings in Hartford this weekend.

Posted in Quick Hits, West Hartford | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Weekend Homework

Posted by whforums on August 8, 2008

Answer the essential question:

What is Noah thinking?

photo credit

Posted in Something Playful For Once, West Hartford | Tagged: | 4 Comments »