West Hartford Forums

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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.

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7 Responses to “Hartford Shootings and a New Regionalism”

  1. Jeff said

    Lovely sentiment. Unlikely outcome.

    This is an instance where Creative Capitalism might be the way to go.

  2. Kerri said

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    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.”

    Hopefully, more people beyond Hartford will begin to care before this violence directly touches those they know well.

  3. Finally. Thank you. Our city needs help and it does not come in the form of residents in bordering towns decrying Hartford as a war zone and saying we should send in the National Guard (as you’ll often see on the Courant’s comment boards). Hartford’s problems are everyone’s problems, whether people choose to believe that or not.

  4. Cynic said

    An interesting sentiment, but what are you proposing.

    The City is a basket case.

    The philosophy on the street is: Thou shalt not snitch.

    The Mayor and Council have developed a tax policy that has driven the middle class and business out of town. They are intent on taking the City farther down by making it an open city for illegals and offering them benefits. The schools are unacceptable to anyone desiring a decent education.

    One of the reasons for the success of West Hartford is the security in Town, which is not available in Hartford. West Hartford was able to provide a night life that Hartford could no longer provide with safety.

    So what do you propose for Hartford. Business wll not move there if the tax load is too onerous and there is no clientel. Middle Class parents won’t move in if they fear for the safety of their children and worry that they won’t be safe in school, and that the education is substandard. Night life won’t reappear until people feel that they can walk the streets at night.

    Hartford has to get it’s house in order. The Mayor and Council have to reevaluate their tax policies, welfare policies and education policies. The citizens have to get behind the police and help clean up their neighborhoods (a lot easier said than done).

    People are not going to invest in Hartford if they feel they are throwing their hard earned money into a cesspool.

    A number of years ago there was a discussion of putting a Casino in Hartford. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea because it would have brought jobs (security clearance for many might have been a problem) and it would have forced the city to clean up the streets to provide security for the visitors. Instead the Sun and Foxwoods maintained a lock on the business, and Hartford went farther down the tubes

  5. Kevin Walsh said

    Thank you for the provocative post. Perhaps we are, or should be, our brothers’ keepers. I cannot say that I agree with all of your assertions and assumptions.

    I do not understand the reference to “latent prejudices.”

    “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.”

    I do not “admit” this, and in fact, I am not sure that I even follow your meaning. Isn’t it just as likely that economic segregation is the driving force behind the creation of wealthy suburbs like West Hartford, rather than the other way around?

    Is your point that people should not choose to live in towns like West Hartford, and should instead stay in, or move to, Hartford?

    Finally, as someone born and raised in West Hartford, I absolutely do not and will not accept that I personally, or West Hartford generally, somehow have some “culpability” (i.e., guilt or blameworthiness) for Hartford’s myriad problems.

    I certainly agree that it makes sense to pursue regional solutions to regional problems – because it seems to be in everyone’s interest to do so. Where we part company is the suggestion that West Hartford and/or its residents are to be faulted for what goes on in Hartford.

  6. whforums said

    re: The idea that regionalism is romantic but not entirely feasible, I think I agree. Though I also think that the first such shift must be a psychological shift — how we define ourselves as residents and citizens. If we begin to think more regionally and identify more regionally, or at least if we begin to discuss the possibility of thinking more regionally, we can drag the politics along kicking and screaming. Maybe I need to beat that drum some.

    @Kevin: I guess the phrase “latent prejudices” was meant to be evocative — it can resonate with different people as it does. The intended meaning was in the context of how Hartford generally seems to be perceived by the ‘burbs — largely through the prejudice that it is a violent and unsafe city. This may not be a prejudice you share, though it’s certainly one propagated as though it is widely shared.

    My point isn’t really about where we live as much as it is how we govern … I’m not sure what my point was directly besides trying to open a conversation about the relationship between the suburbs and Hartford. I know people like answers, maybe expect them of blogs. God knows I don’t have answers. I guess in part I was hoping to open a space for others who would have answers.

    Some really wonderful posts here so far.

  7. P. said

    Old thread, but relevant to the topic of West Hartford’s “responsibility” is the fact that, in many similar metro areas, the city itself and surrounding suburbs are incorporated. In addition to the larger tax base, I seem to recall that annexing West Hartford would also increase the population of Hartford sufficiently that it would qualify for a lot of additional federal money, by getting bumped up into a higher “category” based on population. (It might have to annex East Hartford as well to qualify.)

    Of course, there are legions of difficulties associated with that idea, not the least of which is that West Hartford wouldn’t agree in a million years (and hasn’t, on previous attempts).

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