I met my new friend Patrick this morning. Patrick lives in New York City and is pursuing graduate studies in regional economic development and governance. He and his colleagues are looking for communities that would be good for case studies. Patrick, my man, if you’re looking for dysfunctional economic development and governance, look no further!
As Patrick and I drove around greater Hartford and talked about how folks in the region govern themselves, I had renewed pride in our community and the progress we’ve made over the past 40 years. So much of the north end of Hartford consists of hard-working men and women raising families and building a future in a great mix of new and updated housing. Any urban area would benefit from a great retail district like West Hartford center. Who wouldn’t want a new ballpark in the heart of downtown, filled with fans from throughout the region?
I told Patrick about Riverfront Recapture and about iQuilt and Hartford 400. I told him about Luke Bronin. I told him about how corporate Hartford and the State had stepped up to help put Hartford on firmer financial ground.
There’s progress everywhere, maybe not all the progress we’d like, and maybe it’s progress happening only with fits and starts, but there’s at least a little buzz in Hartford. We all should be happy about it. It’s instructive to stop and look back at where we’ve been and where we’ve come.
And then Patrick asked me who the community leaders are who are pursuing the long-term economic growth and health of greater Hartford. I fell silent. Finally, I told him there is no one. The community recognizes no one as a regional leader. After his election, Mayor Bronin quickly found out that the Mayor of Hartford is not a leader of greater Hartford. Corporate leadership, for understandable reasons, is limited. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has gone in a different direction, also for understandable reasons. Clergy have long since receded from positions of community leadership. Grass roots efforts are commendable but haven’t risen to anything like a driving force in greater Hartford.
Greater Hartford is like a fleet of buses. The buses have drivers like the mayors of Hartford, West Hartford, and East Hartford, and town councils in other surrounding towns. Each of the drivers is steering in whatever direction they think makes sense for their town. Each bus driver is apt to be thrown to the curb if they make a wrong turn in the eyes of a portion of the voters in their town. The ten buses are attached to one another with 100-foot chains, chains that can, and sometimes do, break. These loosely connected buses are moving forward, constantly tugging at each other, resigned to arrive at wherever ten largely independent bus drivers take them. Patrick, no one’s driving the greater Hartford bus.
We’ve made some nice progress in forty years. It’s happened because Hartford has somehow resurrected itself, West Hartford has realized a great vision, Windsor has managed attractive economic development, and various other towns have moved forward, too. We’re fortunate for what we have, but we didn’t do it together.
Imagine what could happen if the people living in our community (ten towns but one community) actually worked together to identify and pursue common goals.