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Posts Tagged ‘Regionalism’

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.

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

So, These Oakwood Avenue Shootings

Posted by whforums on November 1, 2008

I’d be curious to hear the general town reaction to the October 19th shootings at the UAW Hall on Oakwood. You know, the “baby shower shootings” (as if a shooting on the periphery of a baby shower is worse than a shooting anywhere else).

As I read through the coverage, it seemed pretty obvious that there was a (non-organized, unconscious) desire to make the forceful, implicit argument that the violence came to West Hartford but didn’t start here — that the violence had its origin in some other town where these sorts of things happen. And at the same time, I found myself wondering, had this shooting happened a half mile down the road — in Hartford rather than in West Hartford, would it have received the same media attention? Or would it just be another “Hartford shooting?”

So let me get you started with my opinion — which you can probably smell 3 websites away. The sources of this violence are regional, folks, and it’s as much West Hartford’s problem as anyone else’s. And you know what? My guess is that, if we sorted through the news stories from 2008, we’d find a significant percentage of arrested “Hartford Residents” with West Hartford roots.

Here’s the problem. If we continue to dismiss regional violence as a non-regional problem, even if we do so implicitly — if we continue to dismiss this as a problem we can safely appropriate to a city’s limits — then we ignore that its scope, impact and origin are decidedly regional, and our dismissals only serve to perpetuate the violence and its myths. Until our thinking, even in these “belt-tightening” times, is a regional thinking, it’s going to be too easy to close our rental halls (and I don’t blame the UAW for doing that), put our fingers in our ears, and pretend that our greatest problems are our budgets and our development projects — rather than the economic segregation West Hartford (and when I write West Hartford, you better believe I’m writing “You and I”) both enacts and enables.

Posted in Crime, Hartford, Media, Regionalism, Uncategorized, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Talking Regionalism

Posted by whforums on October 14, 2008

During the very short life of this blog, I’ve posted about “Regionalism” a few times (most obviously here), but whenever I’ve posted about it, it’s been out of some sort of impulse — a gut sense that it’s the right solution (backed by some reading), but without semblance of a way to begin to think about how to implement regional solutions to local and regional problems.

That’s why I was grateful for this weekend’s editorial in the Courant, which lays out a pretty strong case for both the “whys” and “hows” of regional solutions.

I’m even more grateful for Amy Bergquist’s blog, which has a great post about the editorial and which encourages conversation about regionalism as an idea. The post is a must click in the “regionalism conversation,” and may provide a useful common ground for constructive conversation (yes, that means from you) that challenges how we define ourselves as towns, as cities, and as a “metropolitan” area.

We can bicker all we want about taxes and budgets, but in the end, we need to recenter our conversation around the greater social problems (read: poverty, segregation and their consequences) our area faces and the responsibilities each of us has in light of those problems. The post on Amy’s blog may provide a touchstone to refocus ourselves after a bitter budget debate that, in context, not only appears more symptomatic than problematic, but allows us to too easily become complacent in the face of our contemporary ethical crises.

Posted in Linkage!, Media, Regionalism, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 2 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 »

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 »