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Archive for December, 2008

Trains and “Greater Hartford”

Posted by whforums on December 29, 2008

So, I’ve been thinking about trains lately.  And I’m not the only one – although this particular post has been kicking around in my head for a while, a lot of other local blogs have written about the topic already.  In fact, trains are the transportation trend of the moment.

For example, Heather B. over at Urban Compass has written extensively about the proposed Springfield to Hartford line (that’s where, in the comments section, I first worked out a draft of what I’m trying to think through here).  West Hartford’s own Representative Chris McCluskey has seconded the notion, arguing that a line that connects Springfield-Hartford-New Haven makes more sense than the proposed New Britain-Hartford Busway, not in small part because it would provide Hartford (and the residents of the West Hartford he represents) easier access to New York.  Over at Real Hartford, a similar argument has been made for investing in train infrastructure.

What I find particularly alluring about the proposal I’ve read about the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line is the way it regionalizes not only the service, but our cities.  One of the great strengths of New England (and one of its great weaknesses, too) is its provincialism – because we are a band of “small cities” (we are Hartford, Providence, Springfield, Worcester, New Haven, etc.) with definite senses of identity, we too often limit ourselves within those cities and identities.  What rail has the potential to do – especially if the trains move fast enough – is to unite our small cities while still protecting (if not further defining) their provincial identities.  Because such rail would lead to an inherent reconsideration of the geographical relationships between these places (a shrinking region), we would also likely see a significant reconsideration of the social and economic relationships between these places (in other words, it would be a “naturally imposed” regionalization).  Let’s face it – does Hartford’s economy stand a better chance of rebounding on its own, or does it stand a better chance of rebounding through an alliance with Springfield, New Haven and beyond?  The answer to the question seems self evident, and the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line promises a greater inflow of people (and cash) into each city.

When I had first started thinking about rail – before reading the stuff that others have written – I have to admit my thought process was a lot more short sighted.  I was thinking of light rail that could serve to connect the center of Hartford to it sprawl in a rapid “off-road” kind of way.  I was imagining a train that ran with consistent and fairly constant service to New Hartford in the west and Bolton or even Mansfield (to connect UCONN to Hartford) in the east.  My thought was that this would provide a convenient way to cut down on traffic congestion in greater Hartford while also making it easier for everyone to get to Hartford – to make Hartford not just an economic hub, but a thriving downtown destination not seen since our Hartford Whalers salad days (ha!).  Such rail could also lead to significant new development along the line itself while fostering regional solutions to local and regional problems (it would be a way to link municipalities through transportation, just as Mayor Slifka, along with the mayors of East Hartford and Middletown, are trying to link the needs of their “small cities” politically). While the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line certainly offers more significant economic opportunity and advantage, the success of such a line (and, once the economy turns around, newly rising gas prices) may make such a “local line” seem more and more palatable.

Rail, of course, comes with its own expenses.  I don’t know how much it costs to lay or lease rail (I’m sure it’s not cheap), I don’t know how much a train would cost, and I certainly don’t know how much money it would suck from the state budget in terms of annual and long term maintenance.  Stations and parking would need to be built. And despite the narrow-minded idealism of what I’ve just written, I certainly would agree with anyone who argues that any local or macro-local transportation solutions must be intermodal (and, since I think we all agree on the importance of intermodal transportation, why on earth would trains not be one of our significant “modes”)?  Fact is, nouveau-rail is an idea that’s of its moment both locally and nationally.  As Obama promises funding for national infrastructure improvements, it seems to me that if we don’t get on the train “train” now, the next scheduled stop will be long in the making.

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Posted in Federal Government, Hartford, Regionalism, Transportation, West Hartford | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Cocoa Kitchen and Bar — Who’s Got the Scuttlebutt?

Posted by whforums on December 24, 2008

Have patiently watched the transformation of the old Puerto Vallarta into the new (and, from the outside, awfully sexy looking) “Cocoa Kitchen and Bar.” As I drove past today, I saw an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper taped to the window that said:

OPEN.

Not the grand opening I’d imagined, but my curiosity is piqued. Add to that the fact that Google searches bring me only to expired Craig’s List hiring ads, and I really want to know what’s going on behind those walls.

Surely, one of you out there knows something about Cocoa — or perhaps has even set foot inside? Any scuttlebutt? I’m not going to make it there until the new year at earliest, but inquiring minds, etc….

EDIT

The site “Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness” gives a review to both Cocoa and Front Street Bistro.  Check it out here.

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , | 40 Comments »

To Take You into The Weekend …

Posted by whforums on December 19, 2008

Two quick West Hartford Centery tidbits:

1. The town has signed a contract with Parcxmart for a debit/credit card on-street parking system. The card could also be used as a debit/credit card with participating local merchants. Sounds like, at least initially, you’ll run into a $500 limit, so if you find yourself spending a lot of money in the Center, you may have to recharge the card quite a bit. Expect to see the “West Hartford Center Credit/Debit Card” to launch in “first quarter 2009.” Get the full press release here.

2. Let me point you to the work of Andy Perez. Perez was tasked with the job of creating a web ad (dunno if it’s destined for life beyond the web?) for West Hartford Center. If you’re a process oriented person, you can see the process he followed, as well as his own blog post about the ad, on his blog. If you’re one of those “product-only” people, you can watch the ad on the “center and square” website (I had no clue until recently that that site existed).

Andy, I think the ad is great (especially the dancing Noah statue — if Noah could dance, well, I think you stone-cold got his moves)  — if you hadn’t said so, I’d never have guessed it was your first ad. But for the next draft, I need some of those credit/debit cards to float by, too.

Enjoy the snow.

Posted in Blue Back Square, Media, Parking, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

“The Impossible Will Take a Little While”

Posted by whforums on December 17, 2008

That’s what Billie Holiday said, anyway.

Heard on WTIC today about two young students at Sedgwick who had the courage to turn to a school counselor about abuse at home. Get the gist of the story here.

I don’t want to talk about the specifics of the case because I think doing so does a disservice to the children and to the family, who have enough to work out without comment from the blogosphere.

I guess what I do want to do is use this particular instance to discuss the education that happens between people rather than on Scantron sheets. Nadezhda Mandelstam said that out of great hopelessness comes hope, and this case calls to attention not only the complexities of public education, but the necessity of humanizing that education. We’re pushing for achievement, we’re pushing for test scores — and don’t get me wrong — we should. But what happened between Sedgwick’s walls today underscores a less quantifiable– but more necessarily human — education. These students spoke up at least in part because they knew they had someone in their school to whom they could speak. Someone (and likely many someones) approached their classroom and their school not as a set of potential test scores (don’t get me started on “merit based pay”), but as mutual human beings in need — through and in spite of their mutual flaws. Whether we think they should, our schools carry the imperative of both developing and protecting their students, and they do this best by building relationships with those students. In the hopelessness of abuse (which is a day to day reality for many in WHPS, I’m sure), there is the great hope of our schools — not only the equal access to education they provide, but in the very human attention of our teachers, counselors, staff and administrators. It’s those who are working (too often thanklessly or invisibly) for the good of these kids — and for the good of our present West Hartford and the future West Hartford toward which we peer — who allow us to realize that, as our neighbors suffer, there is also a vigilance against that suffering. Too often we want our schools to be fortresses against our social problems — if not ivory towers, at least ivory ground floors — when we should be attentive to a more basic grounding: in spite of our mutual sufferings, in our schools, we’re not cut off from each other.

Oh. And they’re doing a pretty good job with those test scores, too.

Posted in Abstract Babble, Do I Contradict Myself ...?, gratitude, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Two Restaurant Reviews. And Farmington Has a New Superintendent

Posted by whforums on December 16, 2008

Posts like these are my favorite kinds of posts — I get to link you out to all kinds of interesting stuff without doing much work myself! That said, there’s some stuff about trains coming later in the week …

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First, The Connecticutian gives a very favorable review to Bombay Olive (in the old IHOP location on the corner of New Britain and South Main — across the street from the ever enigmatic Szechuan Tokyo). We ate at Bombay Olive once and our impression generally matches the opinion over at The Connecticutian …

Adventures Through CT gives a favorable review to PF Changs. I know the initial reaction amongst our small community was mixed (and a colleague told me today she “got exactly what she expected” — dunno if that’s good or not), so I’m sure this post may be met with some skepticism. Adventures says current wait time is about an hour, so it’ll be a while before I check it out …

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And, on a totally unrelated note … Farmington has a new superintendent (at 181k a year, folks)! Lost in all the local news of late has been our own superintendent search, so I guess I’d ask you to read this article in the New Britain Herald and answer the following question:

What do we see in the profile of this (successful) candidate that we want in West Hartford’s new superintendent, and what do we see that we don’t like?

And yes. I suckered you in with food to get you to talk about who we want as superintendent. The superintendent search is that intellectually delicious.

Posted in Linkage!, West Hartford, West Hartford Restaurants, westfarms, WHPS | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report

Posted by whforums on December 12, 2008

So, just as forewarning, this is going to be a long post. I fear, not having written it yet, that it’s likely you’re going to have to scroll while reading it.

After reading the ACLU report “Hard Lessons,” I went through and grabbed all the narrative and statistical claims the report made about West Hartford. The real goal of this post is to give those claims a common space (separate from the claims about Hartford and East Hartford) so that we can discuss what the report has to say about our own bubble. The data is both telling and almost surreal in turn, and I have to admit that a secondary reason for separating/compiling this data is to further one of the goals of the ACLU as stated in the report: “this aims … to be the start of a conversation.”

I’ve broken down the information I’ve gleaned from the report into three parts: General Information (including the ACLU’s conclusions and suggestions), Narrative Claims about West Hartford, and Statistical Claims about West Hartford. I’ve numbered each item to facilitate conversation, and I’ve added my own commentary in italics (only where I had something to say).
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General Information

1. The ACLU’s reason for filing this report is that “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The ACLU grants that the racial and ethnic disparities they found in greater Hartford are not localized to greater Hartford, but are real, national problems. It’s unclear to me why our area was chosen for this report.

2. The ACLU is not entirely convinced they have received accurate data from the State Department of Education. If anything, they believe the SDE may be (unintentionally) understating the number of arrests.

3. To solve the problem of school based arrest, the ACLU believes schools and SROs should engage in more ticketing, more preventative work, and should more often attack root causes of problems (issues with mental health, substance abuse, interpersonal issues needing mediation, etc.). Arrest should only occur as an absolute last resort, when school safety is genuinely threatened.

  • It seems to me that West Hartford already does a good deal of preventative work, and yet our arrest rates remain the highest among the three towns studied. Are we too quick to arrest, or do we have greater in-school problems than other districts?

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Narrative Claims about West Hartford

4. SROs in West Hartford, from 2005-2007, were not subject to written policies that describe their duties.

  • This is ridiculous, almost to the point of not seeming believable. I mean, shouldn’t everyone we hire be hired on a contract that specifically outlines their duties, even if there’s the “Other duties as assigned” line tacked onto the end? Without duties, how do we assess outcomes?

5. SROs in West Hartford do not receive mandatory training as SROs, though some do pursue or receive training. One West Hartford SRO reported receiving more than 100 hours of relevant training.

  • Given the time and money spent on professional development in WHPS, I’m pretty sure our SROs are well trained.

6. Neither WHPS nor the WHPD maintains school based arrest data in an accessible form. When the ACLU asked the WHPD for this data, they responded that the request did not “coincide with the categories in which we store the information”. The WHPD had staffers seek and gather the data from their records for the ACLU report. Schools shred all arrest reports at the end of the year.

  • I get the privacy concerns here, and I understand the desire to shred this data. But shouldn’t WHPS be maintaining some sort of generic, anonymous data of the arrests that occur within its purview? How do we measure this important outcome (even if it’s an outcome we don’t desire) if we shred the outcome? It’s as though there’s a will to forget where we’ve failed (to burn the archive, yes?), rather than to study that very thing.

7. From 2005-2007, West Hartford arrested a little more than 30 students between the grades of K-8. This includes the arrest of two Hispanic fourth graders for “insubordination.” Actual percentages are unclear, but the ACLU says African-Americans and Hispanics in grades K-8 were arrested “more” than Whites.

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Statistical Claims about West Hartford

8. In 06-07, there were 5 arrests per 1000 students. 5% of all incidents resulted in arrest (compared to 3 in East Hartford and .5 percent in Hartford).

  • It’s important to note that that number of arrests was much higher in West Hartford in 05-06, suggesting improvement, aberration, or something generally funky in the 06-07 numbers.

9. In 06-07, African American and Hispanic students constituted 24% of the WHPS population but experienced 63% of the arrests.

  • This is unreal to me, and it’s one of the numbers that got a lot of press because it’s so outrageous. Sample sizes are of course small, but show consistency across the two years of the study. If I may adapt the lingo of this, our Internet … W.T.F.?

10. In 05-07, African American students were twice as likely to be arrested as white students for committing the same infraction (“physical altercations”). From 2005-2007, physical altercations in West Hartford were likely to lead to arrests rates of 23% for African Americans, but only 11% for Whites.

  • Chief Strillaci responded directly to this information the day the report was released, arguing that all fights are not made equal. And that, undoubtedly, is true. But this disparity suggests, at best, an unconscious social prejudice that happens to emerge in the place someone went looking for it — the schools.

11. From 05-06 to 06-07, arrests in West Hartford fell sharply, from 121-52. However, the ratio of incident reports to arrests in WH remained higher than in the other districts. West Hartford’s suspension rate was much lower than the other two districts.

  • This I don’t entirely get — if we arrest a student, wouldn’t the school issue its own punishment — a suspension, on top of that arrest? Are we quick to arrest, but slow to suspend? Is suspension considered as much of a last resort as arrest? That seems unlikely, and leaves me confused about the meaning of this number.

12. In 05-06 and 06-07, African-Americans, Hispanics and Whites were arrested in approximately equal numbers in West Hartford, despite the fact that there were far more Whites in the school system. In 05-06 in West Hartford, there were 30 arrests per 1000 Hispanic students, 43 arrests per 1000 African American students, and 5 arrests per 1000 White students. Similar disparities prevailed in 06-07, despite the lower arrest rate as a whole.

13. For drug/alcohol/tobacco incidents in West Hartford, African Americans were likely to be arrested 27% of the time, Hispanic students were likely to be arrested 31% of the time, and Whites were arrested 10% of the time. The ACLU grants that these numbers may be impacted by small sample size.

  • This category seems very broad, and the numbers may also be impacted by the types of offense. It’s one thing for a 16 year old to have a pack of cigarettes on them — and another to have a baggie. The ACLU admits as much in the report.

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So, Why the Disparities?

14. If school based arrests are occurring in numbers that are out of whack, the ACLU asks the following practical question: “What concrete steps can we (that we is “West Hartford” in this case) take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

15. The report provides one potential reason for the disparities, arguing they are likely the cause of “conscious and unconscious decision making.” They further state that perception of an in-school transgression is largely subjective, claiming that “…research suggests that educators view certain behaviors more harshly when observed in students of color than when observed in white students (e.g., a white student who talks back may be cited for ‘insubordination,’ while an African American student engaging in the same conduct is found to have engaged in ‘threatening.’)”

So, I turn the ACLU’s question over to you. Based on the ACLU’s argument that not all students in West Hartford are being treated the same way (or perhaps you reject the argument or a component of it?):

“What concrete steps can we take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

Posted in Institutionalized Discrimination, West Hartford, WHPD, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

West Hartford, Teachers Union, Reach Deal

Posted by whforums on December 10, 2008

The Courant is reporting this morning that the teachers union and the town have agreed (with union ratification) on a contract through the end of academic year 2011. The teachers will receive a 1% raise in the first year and a 1.25% raise in a second year — raises that are significantly lower than the 3% raise union members had been receiving under the previous agreement. In return, teachers will work one fewer day per year and will still receive annual step increases.

The Courant estimates that the raises will cost the town an extra one million dollars over the life of the deal.

Now, I can hear the howling coming from the far reaches of the anti-teacher crowd already, but I have to tell you, I think this strikes a reasonable compromise between a town under financial stress and a personnel who are also under financial stress. And I think we also have to ask ourselves — would arbitration really have brought a better deal?

I know many would like to have seen a pay freeze, and others would argue that taking any raise, in this environment, smacks of selfishness. But I would argue that, down the road, we would have had to pay more for both — in compensation for a freeze, and in pedagogical brain-drain.

Maintaining a fleet of happy teachers at the expense of one year of leaf collection? I’ll take it. 😉

Posted in West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Ok, Ok. I Get It.

Posted by whforums on December 8, 2008

So, I want to write about banks.

But, if the search hits I’m getting teach me anything, you want to read about food.

So the answer to your overarching question?

Yes.  PF Changs is open.

Now eat there and report back.

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Restaurants, westfarms | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

West Hartford Credit Union Goes Belly Up — The Hartford Just Goes Up

Posted by whforums on December 7, 2008

I know, I know.  Your first thought was probably the same as mine — West Hartford had a credit union?  And it was called the West Hartford Credit Union?

Obvioulsy, none of us likes to see a local business fail, but what really stand out to me about this story (as reported in the Courant version, anyway) is the relative obscurity of the business itself.  When Lane and Lenge left The Center, and when Simmer shuttered, well, those were quasi-big deals to me — local businesses that were looking to protect their profit margins by leaving high rents behind (well, I thought that was the deal with Simmer).  But in this case, I’m really struck by the anonymity of this apparently veteran small business — the credit union was 58 years old, had somewhere between 2 and 4 million dollars in assets (depending on the version of the story you read)  and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 customers.  If we ridiculously assume that all of those customers were residents, we’re talking about roughly 2% of the population of the town (granted, that market share is a lot bigger than the market share of this blog — but then, I’m not trying to make a profit, either). It’s not that I’m saying that market share was uber-small — I guess I’m saying, in a market like West Hartford, and even with a name like West Hartford (on your bank, no less), I’m really taken aback that I never even knew the institution existed.

In some ways, I guess I also feel a twisted guilt.  I bank with several mammoth institutions, each of which is essentially devoid of local roots (not that my accounts would have made a difference for “our” credit union, and not that “our” credit union would have done me much good while traveling, either).  But there’s another weird fact in this whole situation that gives me pause.  The West Hartford Credit Union?  Yeah.  Its offices were in Farmington.

As the “WHCU” was going under, shares of the The Hartford went through “the roof” (though the roof has been lowered by, oh, about 90%, recently).  This is good for many in my family (and for many in yours, I’m sure — The Hartford is a mammoth employer for residents of West Hartford), but it serves as a stark reminder of the fog we’re in — a fog in which a bank I’ve never heard of seems to have as tenuous a grasp on existence as a mega-major company upon which our entire region depends.

Posted in Crap Economy, Hartford, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Weekend Open Thread

Posted by whforums on December 6, 2008

What’s on your mind, West Hartford?

Post your thoughts (your joy or hatred) in WH Forums’ first open thread.

Please note that this thread, in all likelihood, will be a flaming disaster. 

If you make me edit things …

*shakes fist*

Posted in Open Thread, West Hartford | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »