Carolyn and I love our house. We had lived in Glastonbury for close to 20 years when our daughter, our youngest child, went off to college. We began talking about downsizing to what Carolyn once dubbed our “terminal house.” We’ve always enjoyed our houses, and we spent some time talking about where we would like to retire. We found an ideal location in Wethersfield and remodeled the house to meet our needs. It’s a nice, comfortable house, livable, just right. As with any remodeling project, there are some things we could have done better. With an unlimited budget we would have added a few features, but all in all, we’re pleased and very fortunate.

The other day, Carolyn posed this hypothetical situation: An anonymous benefactor (remember Michael Anthony and his boss, John Beresford Tipton, Jr.?) offers to pay all associated expenses for us to move to temporary quarters, demolish our current house and build a new house to any design we desire. In other words, we’d get a house that might be bigger, smaller, more rooms, fewer rooms, new furniture, different amenities, whatever, so that when we moved in we would have made every improvement and have exactly what we wanted. We’d be no richer and no poorer than we are today, but our house would be even better. Carolyn asked, “Would you do it?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, suppose that in addition to getting the house exactly as we want it, we also were given $1 million, tax-free.”


“What about $2 million?” she asked.

“Well, I suppose there’s some dollar amount where I might change my mind, but I might decline it at any amount.”

“Why wouldn’t you do it?”

“A combination of reasons,” I answered. “First, I like our house. It meets our needs very well. A replacement house could be better, for sure, but I don’t think it would be so much better that it would be worth all that would be involved.

“Second, I’m enjoying my retirement, and it isn’t going to go on forever. I don’t think I’d want to dedicate a couple of my remaining years to designing and rebuilding our house.”

Carolyn did no more than posit a hypothetical and ask a couple of questions, but I could see where this was going. She grinned and asked, “So tell me this: Why would people who are comfortable where they live, people who like their towns, get behind reorganizing government in greater Hartford, even if they can see it would be better?”

Don’t you just hate it when someone does that? I mean, I’ve been blowing up this balloon for the better part of a year now, and in two minutes she sticks a pin it.

All right, I give up. Reorganized government is a good idea, but it’s not happening. No one wants to do it. That’s what all my friends say, and I’ve just been too stubborn to see it. So let’s forget the whole thing.

On to my next subject. Our son, John is married and living with his wife and four children, 11 and under. They are living the dream, literally. It’s far from a life of leisure, but it’s the life they wanted, and they are enjoying it, sleep deprived or not.

They have a four-bedroom house in Glastonbury. (Yes, we are fortunate to have our children and grandchildren living nearby.) They love the location, including the school district, but the house has gotten a little small with the arrival of child #4. They could use another bedroom, a more functional family room, a bigger garage. Of course, it’s all about wants rather than needs; they are blessed to have the lovely family they have and they are managing just fine as they are.

I sent John an email the other night. It said, “An anonymous benefactor (no, not your parents) offers to pay all associated expenses for you and your family to move out of your house to temporary quarters, demolish your house and build a new house to any design you desire. In other words, you’d get a house that might be bigger, smaller, more rooms, fewer rooms, new furniture, different amenities, whatever, so that when you moved in you would have exactly what you wanted and be no richer and no poorer than you are today. You’d have the same mortgage you have today.

“Would you do it? And if the answer is no, would you do it if you also received $1 million, tax-free?”

John’s response was short and oh, so sweet: “Yes, and definitely yes if you throw in another million.”

What do you say to that, Carolyn?

I’m back! I’m not giving up!

Why did John say yes to the same deal I declined? First, his current house doesn’t meet his family’s needs as well our current house fits ours. Second, and at least as important, is the time line. John is looking at another 15 years, minimum, before his family’s housing needs change. Two years of domestic disruption is worth 13 years in a house just the way they want it. And third, he wants his children to live in a nice, comfortable house.

And so it is with restructuring government in greater Hartford. If you’re in your twenties or thirties or forties and making your home in greater Hartford, you’re looking at a long time horizon. Your children will grow up here. You’d like to retire here. You’d like to live the next thirty or forty years in an exciting, active, dynamic community. You can see that how we govern ourselves is a serious impediment to greater Hartford becoming just such a place. Most importantly, you can see that you have time to fix it and still enjoy all the benefits of living in a great mid-sized urban environment.

Your children deserve to live in a functional community that operates to meet their needs and the needs of all of the children in the community. They deserve a community that is economically and socially vibrant and multi-cultural, because that is the world that awaits them in adulthood. They deserve the kind of community that will cause your children to make their futures here, rather than move away.

Greater Hartford today is not that community. It was fifty years ago, but it was surviving on the successes of the early 20th century. It was in decline, and we didn’t see it. If anything, the decline is continuing today. At the core of our problems is our governance structure, an antiquated system that impairs our ability to work together as a community of people building for our common future.

Better government isn’t mysterious. It’s being done all over the country, just not here. Better government begins with one government for all of greater Hartford, not eight or ten or twelve separate governments.

So, if you’re in your sixties or seventies, I get it: You see that I’m talking about something better in the long term, but life’s fine for you as it is (except that your children and grandchildren probably don’t live here). Even though you can see that government could be better, it seems like too much work to get there, and you’ve got better things to do. Fine, just don’t get in the way as others get to work to create the future.

If you’re in your thirties or forties, this place you make your home could have a bright future. It’s your future to build, and your children’s future. It will be worth the effort.


  1. Mark ~ I don’t know that this cheered me up, but it did make me smile, and that is worth quite a bit during this unsettling time. I enjoy your writings when I have the chance to read them, so thanks so very much for continuing your intelligent ruminations! Wishing you and your lovely family well!

  2. Agree with both those comments – made me smile, and among your best. Loved the narrative arc, the challenge for our hero from Carolyn, then the climactic turnaround scene with John. A mini-novel in blog form, nicely tied back to your premise. Thank you!

  3. Good column but I hope you crank up the discussion a notch. This was a good idea 20 years ago and it still is. Why will people take up the cause now when they haven’t for decades? I hope you engage your readers to discuss whether decreases state funding and the new normal ( whatever that is ) from the pandemic will help galvanize support. Carry on.

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