Coding for a Cause

Posted on Tuesday, April 9 2013 by Heather Brandon

I ran across an interesting article in Time magazine (sorry, non-subscribers) about Code for America, an effort to harness young people with a programming or technical background into government service. It’s been called a “Peace Corps for geeks,” and is a year-long program in partnership with municipalities.

CFA is currently seeking municipalities to apply for 2014.

Mother Jones profiled CFA’s Jen Pahlka last year:

MJ: Why cities?

Jen Pahlka: You can care about your city in a way that’s hard to care about the bigger levels of government. And cities everywhere are going through this enormous financial crisis. People are noticing the potholes, the parks where weeds have started to take over, less police on the streets. It’s in your face, and this crisis is creating the political will to push through new approaches.

MJ: Is it tough convincing city hall to let a bunch of young hackers move in?

JP: We’ve been more welcome than a lot of people expected. People working in our city governments are hungry for ways to do their jobs better that get around some of the crippling rules and procedures.

One of the outcomes of the CFA fellowship program is BlightStatus, based in New Orleans, created by a team called Civic Industries. The online tool accomplishes a lot of pretty great stuff, providing current information about individual troubled properties. You can even “subscribe” to certain properties so you stay updated about how they’re doing. The two-way-street nature of the tool is good for cities and citizens alike. Several other online tools 
have come out of the CFA crucible.

While online life can’t solve all the problems we experience in the real world, these tools are promising, especially during a time when city budgets are tight. What CFA appears to be offering is a kind of brain trust to connect problems and data with people who might bring a fresh approach to solutions. The year-long focus may be enough to jumpstart a lot of great new work in the cities that benefit.

Experts Recommend Branding, Focusing Farmington Avenue in Hartford

Posted on Friday, October 5 2012 by Heather Brandon

ULI map of retail corridor nodes

The ULI panel recommended concentrating retail development efforts at two nodes along the Farmington Avenue corridor. Photo by Heather Brandon

A panel of nine professional land use and real estate experts, volunteering their time, visited Hartford’s Farmington Avenue yesterday during a day-long Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) arranged through the Urban Land Institute Boston District Council.

During a presentation at the Mark Twain House Visitors Center yesterday evening, the panel recommended a branding effort for the corridor that would help give a clearer identity to its commercial offerings.

The advice came at the end of a day of touring, meeting with about 30 stakeholders, and brainstorming possible designs and marketing strategies. In addition to a branding effort, the panelists said, bike infrastructure should be a part of the corridor’s design, and retail development should be clustered at two significant nodes that serve distinct residential areas adjacent to the corridor.

Continue reading…

Urban Fabric

Posted on Thursday, January 12 2012 by Heather Brandon

In a brief 2010 paper titled “Losing Hartford: Transportation Policy and the Decline of an American City,” PhD candidate Christopher McCahill and UConn Associate Professor Norman Garrick assert that the city and state should both begin to charge their employees for the ample parking they use downtown. I agree—if enacted, I think such a policy would transform downtown more effectively and comprehensively than any other visionary project we have in the works. It bears reminding: we have too many parking facilities, and we need to fix this problem yesterday. Continue reading…

Technical Ticketing: Confusion Over Holiday Parking and Trash Day

Posted on Thursday, January 5 2012 by Heather Brandon

No parking sign on Ashley Street. Photo H Mira

When we have a holiday weekend in Hartford, trash day is moved back one day for everyone. But not for the police officers who patrol the streets looking for opportunities to ticket residents who may believe they have a holiday reprieve.

Many city streets are marked with signs warning residents not to park on a given side of the street on a particular trash day—and that day of the week is noted. When trash day is moved back a day, like it is this week, police still ticket and even attempt to tow cars even though there is no trash collection. Why? Because street sweeping, which ordinarily occurs on the same day as trash collection, is not delayed.

Helder Mira, a resident of Asylum Hill, happened to be out walking this morning when he encountered a tow truck preparing to tow an illegally parked car on Huntington Street. “The city sent out an email announcing that all trash and recycling collection was pushed back,” Mira said in an email. “Residents figured that meant everything was pushed back a day and hence, no parking ban.”

Continue reading…

A Regional Corridor is Reborn

Posted on Monday, December 5 2011 by Heather Brandon

Three regions come togetherAn area previously known as the Knowledge Corridor is being rebranded and reborn as New England’s Sustainable Knowledge Corridor, thanks in part to a federal grant aimed at improving life in the region in a number of measurable ways.

The areas of work include housing, education, transportation, employment, nutrition, and community resources. Three regional planning agencies are the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission of Springfield, the Capitol Region Council of Governments of Hartford, and the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency of Bristol.

According to a two-page summary available from the Hartford-based planning agency, the four key components of the three-year initiative are planning activities; civic engagement; capacity-building, including studies; and metrics and information-sharing. HUD has awarded $4.2 million to the combined region for planning purposes.

A number of rather significant moving parts will contribute to the planning work, including a massive sustainability strategy for the region, the integration of regional plans so they are somewhat streamlined, and a civic engagement and public outreach process to ensure diverse participation. A market analysis of bus rapid transit and rail corridor use is anticipated, as well as the preparation of a model affordable housing code and sustainable land use codes for ten municipalities. Continue reading…

Finding an Ally

Posted on Tuesday, November 22 2011 by Heather Brandon

CT Public Allies 2012

Statewide CT Public Allies for 2012

Last night I attended a public discussion hosted by the new crop of Public Allies—about 14 young people (pictured in the larger group at right) based in Greater Hartford and looking to make a positive difference. Part of their role here over the next seven months is to generate a team service project (see their recent press release). Already, they’ve done a great thing by putting together the public forum. They plan to delve further into “how we can celebrate positive aspects of Hartford communities, improve media coverage, and give exposure to overlooked social services, organizations, and educational activities available within the city.”

Determined to focus on Hartford’s assets, the Allies facilitated small group discussions asking questions about perceptions of Hartford, both good and bad. In a way, this allowed my own small group to vent and gripe about others’ venting and persistent gripes about Hartford:

“It’s viewed as an unsafe place to walk around, as though every street is totally ripe for getting mugged. Well, my friend did get mugged once.”

“One person told me I shouldn’t enter my kids in the public schools, that I’d have to homeschool if I moved to Hartford.”

“People think there’s nothing to do here. It drives me crazy.”

Continue reading…

A Visit to the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center

Posted on Thursday, September 15 2011 by Heather Brandon

1250 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn

Last week, I was part of a small group that toured Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center facilities in Brooklyn, New York. GMDC describes itself as a nonprofit developer of industrial properties that rehabilitates and manages manufacturing buildings for occupancy by small manufacturers, artisans, and artists.

The group was assembled by Rosanne Haggerty of Community Solutions, also based in New York, in order to have a chance to learn more about GMDC’s model for building rehabilitation, occupancy, and job creation.

We met at 1205 Manhattan Avenue in North Brooklyn, reached by a short walk over the Pulaski Bridge from Long Island City. The building is recognizable from the bridge by its smokestack.

View from Pulaski Bridge. Photo © H BrandonIts industrial appearance is also maintained up close, and the surrounding neighborhood is a jumble of manufacturing facilities and outdoor movie and TV sets, since the area seems to be an ideal spot to imagine dumping a body. In other words, it’s totally charming and creatively inspiring.

The GMDC offices are on the fifth floor of the building, with walls painted white, high ceilings, and selective glass interior walls to allow light to pass through. To get there, one boards a 100-year-old elevator with a human elevator operator by your side. It moves at a snail’s pace. Each ride in the elevator prompts a discussion about how slow it is, and how the next big project in the building is to replace it. Continue reading…

Former Swift Factory Redevelopment: A Thesis Project

Posted on Tuesday, July 19 2011 by Heather Brandon

Where has Urban Compass been? For the last several months, I was intermittently wrapping up a master’s degree program and wallowing in uncertainty about the job market. Now that the former task is complete, I am able to turn my attention full-time to the latter. (If you know of any leads, send them my way! I’m billing myself as an urban policy consultant with civic engagement/media experience.)

Former Swift factory site, courtesy city of Hartford

Former Swift factory site, courtesy city of Hartford

My thesis project for the degree centered on the community land trust ownership model as it might apply in Hartford. After searching fruitlessly for a specific site to study for some time, I had the bounty of meeting Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, Inc., who said she was interested in whether a land trust could work at the former Swift factory site in the North End, near Keney Park (pictured). Needless to say, I jumped on the opportunity to conduct essentially a case study of how the idea might work.

The resulting paper is available for download here, titled: “A Community Land Trust in Hartford: Common Ground, Inc. and the Former Swift Factory Site.” A land trust that includes housing, and possibly retail and commercial ventures, is worth attempting according to my research, but not in any hurry. It would take at least five years to build readiness, and until then it’s best to have the guidance and funding support an established nonprofit corporation can provide.

Community land trusts came on my radar when I was researching the policy problem of excess blight in Hartford. I examined ways to lessen blight either through the city’s top-down inspection and enforcement efforts or through a local community’s bottom-up capacity building efforts. An urban housing trust can build meaningful neighborhood support for improved land use and treatment of structures. I see it as part of an empowering “take back our buildings” movement, most applicable to places where demand is high, and useful as a way to make sure affordable housing is made perpetually available. Whether Hartford has enough high-quality affordable housing was an entirely different policy question I didn’t have a chance to research.

Since I completed the paper, I’ve heard bits and pieces of information about how the Swift project is progressing. It sounds as though a modest farm venture is underway this season, overseen by Hartford Food System and Grow Hartford. Efforts to rehab one of the historic homes on the property are moving along and a few professionals hired to oversee aspects of redevelopment. Environmental remediation is nearly complete, with the bulk of the most difficult work done some time ago when the former owners were preparing to demolish. What remained most recently was a patch of contaminated soil in a tough to reach location. Eventually, the plan is to farm about two acres at the site, and to engage the local neighborhood a great deal in that process. Artisans, teachers and craftspeople of all types will work and/or live there, hopefully supplying goods and resources to local institutions. A market study this summer will provide some focus to those efforts.

For a peek at the Swift site, Rodger Phillips posted a few photos last spring to his Hartford Signs blog.

Trickle-Down Education

Posted on Monday, December 20 2010 by Heather Brandon

I’ve been searching for a high school for my oldest child. We have heard many recommendations for private school, especially from teachers at our current public school. When my daughter says she really wants to go to the Academy for the Arts, some teachers shake their heads and say, “That just isn’t good college prep. How are you going to get into Yale?”

Annual tuition for private high schools in the area is around at least $30,000 these days. Our local public schools are getting increasingly specialized, if you go by the multitudes of magnet types and “academies” within single schools. High school is the new college.

Continue reading…

A Community Land Trust in Hartford?

Posted on Thursday, September 30 2010 by Heather Brandon

Land in Hartford. Photo by H Brandon

Land in Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

My last few months have been spent researching. Last spring, for a class, I did a policy analysis on blight remediation in Hartford. I examined the effectiveness of public versus private sector approaches to solving the problem.

My overall aim was to consider ways urban land—currently neglected or left empty—can be returned to some productive use. How might local ownership revive these spaces? What can government do to coerce change? Many owners seem to be waiting for the economy to “recover,” or some great opportunity to come around, which may never happen in the ways they imagine.

Over the summer, an independent study focused on a potential private sector solution to the problem of blight: community land trusts. The land trust model is often conceived as useful for protecting natural resources. Urban resources can likewise be protected—from preying profiteers, if you will, who guided us into the foreclosure crisis—through the same basic model, tended by a board of directors including various stakeholders. The model has been shown to hold promise preventing blight and foreclosure, keeping housing affordable, and fostering community ties. Land trusts can include housing as well as amenities such as community gardens or retail space. They can include renters, owners, or both.

Continue reading…

Former Springfield Control Board Official Pays Penalty Over Merrill Lynch Investment

Posted on Tuesday, July 27 2010 by Heather Brandon

Lisauskas, right, with city auditor Mark Ianello in 2008.

Lisauskas, right, with city auditor Mark Ianello in 2008.

Former Springfield Control Board Executive Director Stephen Lisauskas violated the state conflict of interest law, according to an announcement today from the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission. He paid a $3,000 civil penalty related to his work finding brokerage firms to handle the city’s investments. The finding can be downloaded here (PDF).

The violation relates to the loss of a $13 million municipal investment with Merrill Lynch in 2007 after the cash was illegally invested in mortgage-backed securities that lost all their value. The investment was eventually recovered, but questions lingered over whether Lisauskas treated potential brokerage firms fairly because of a friendship connecting him to one of the firms.

One of Lisauskas’s errors was a failure to file a written disclosure of his prior relationship with the broker, Carl Kipper, “to dispel [the] appearance of impropriety.”

+  +  +

Former Springfield Finance Control Board Executive
Director Stephen Lisauskas Pays $3,000 Civil Penalty
for Conflict of Interest Law Violations

The State Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) in which former Springfield Finance Control Board (“SFCB”) Deputy Director Stephen Lisauskas (“Lisauskas”) admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law.  Pursuant to the Agreement, Lisauskas paid a $3,000 civil penalty.

Continue reading…

Filling the Donut Hole: A West End Historic District Effort

Posted on Thursday, May 6 2010 by Heather Brandon

proposed-oxford-whitney-historic-district

Proposed Oxford-Whitney historic district

Last night, Hartford’s West End Civic Association held a meeting for property owners along Whitney, Oxford and Fern Streets in an area known as the “donut hole” in a national historic district north of Farmington Avenue.

A grant-funded effort is underway to apply for national register status so the donut hole is included—an area with 59 multi-family residences mixed with 42 single-family homes.

Consultant Lucas Karmazinas offered a 76-page national register nomination (PDF) with details about the 101 properties included, and much exposition about why the area qualifies as historic, just like its surroundings. All but three (constructed slightly later) were built between 1906 and 1919. From the nomination:

[T]he Oxford-Whitney Streets Historic District boasts a distinct character and unique historical narrative that make it worthy of individual inclusion on the National Register. It is set apart from the adjacent districts by its higher concentration of multi-family residences and the socio-economic patterns that are historically different from the neighboring districts.

The development of these blocks took place largely after the surrounding streets had been filled, and was completed—with only a limited number of exceptions—by builders and contractors rather than under the watchful eye of trained architects. Once raised, these buildings became home to a diverse range of Hartford residents.  Significantly, these included a higher concentration of lower-middle and middle-class workers than could be found on the neighboring streets which tended to be populated by the city’s wealthier inhabitants.

The significance of this area of the city’s historic multi-family housing, which has largely been maintained intact for 100 years, is no less important than any other type of housing. Adding it to the national register could have many benefits. But at last night’s meeting, opposition to the idea was the major topic of discussion.

Continue reading…

Thanks, Readers

Posted on Thursday, April 22 2010 by Heather Brandon

Thanks, readers, for supporting Urban Compass as “best local blog” in the readers’ poll for the Advocate‘s Best of Hartford 2010. It came in third place behind Colin McEnroe’s To Wit and Victoria Failla’s Gluten Free Vegetarian Connecticut. Kerri Provost at Real Hartford highlights a few winners and runners-up in the city of Hartford.

Alternatives to the Highway Through Hartford

Posted on Friday, March 26 2010 by Heather Brandon

A consultant-led public workshop—the second of three in a series guided by Boston-based Goody Clancy—took place last night at the downtown Hartford public library. The focus: what to do about the highway through Hartford, specifically the section known as the viaduct.

The piece of highway is a poorly designed, raised section roughly between Sisson Avenue and Union Station (between exits 46 and 48/49 or so). The state department of transportation will have to do something with the stretch anyway, as it’s aged and in need of replacement. A community initiative (the Hub of Hartford) to consider alternatives has evolved to the point where the public is now able to weigh options realistically and methodically.

Last night’s meeting was an opportunity to weigh preliminary options through the lens of Goody Clancy’s matrix assessment. Each of five distinct alternatives developed so far was considered with respect to its merits on urban design and land use, transportation design, and contribution toward economic development and market potential.

Continue reading…

Potluck Slideshow Feb. 24 at Billings Forge

Posted on Tuesday, February 9 2010 by Heather Brandon

Janice La Motta

Janice La Motta

Janice La Motta (pictured at right), program coordinator at the Studio at Billings Forge, 563 Broad Street in Hartford, is arranging a community event at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, February 24. La Motta said she hopes it might “develop into a regular forum for bringing together diverse members of the arts community, and anyone else who’s interested.”

Studio at Billings Forge. Photo © H Brandon

Studio at Billings Forge. Photo © H Brandon

The potluck slideshow, open to the public (admission is a food dish to serve four and a non-alcoholic beverage), is a chance for artists to share images of their work or even short video pieces after visitors and other artists have milled about eating food everyone has contributed.

La Motta notes the event will offer a “forum for open dialogue and exchange” among artists and the public, also “bringing an awareness of the diverse forms of visual art to the community at large.” The slideshow will be preceded by the potluck dinner the attendees make possible.

Any images of finished pieces or works in progress are invited (deadline: Friday, February 19). The bar is low to get in: everything contributed to the slideshow will be presented. Details about submission guidelines are below.

Submission Guidelines by February 19

• Artists may submit up to 5 images.
• Images must be in jpeg format. Prefix each file with your name (ie-ArtistName_01.JPG)
• Put the images in the order that you would like them presented and number accordingly.
• Image size should fit within a rectangle 1,024 pixels wide x 768 pixels tall.
• Videos are accepted—not to exceed 60 seconds.
• Include with images: name, title, date completed and medium.
• Provide a separate file that includes your name, contact information and brief biography.
• Submissions should be sent to: potluckslides [at] gmail.com

Census Workers Needed in Hartford

Posted on Friday, January 29 2010 by Heather Brandon

The US Census Bureau is looking for Census workers in Hartford this spring and summer. A press release today from Andy Hart, of the Hartford Complete the Count Committee, provides the details (below). Hart can be reached at (860) 296-6128.

US Census Bureau Looking For Workers
Local Census Manager Looking for Over 5,000 Qualified Job Applicants

Rumors that the federal government will employ a small army to conduct the Census are false—they will employ a large army. “About 2.5 million people by April, about the same as the number of active duty personnel with the U.S. Army. Maybe more,” said Russel Hicks, Manager of the Local Census Office in Downtown Hartford.

When the Census is in full swing this spring, Hicks said  his office will have approximately 1,500 people working in Hartford, East Hartford, West Hartford and Manchester. The bulk of that workforce, about 1,400, will be Field Enumerators who go door-to-door gathering Census information from people who did not mail in their 2010 Census questionnaire. Field Enumerators make $19.75 per hour.

To make sure his office is never short on manpower, Hicks is currently trying to build up a pool of approximately 5,600 qualified applicants and there’s still plenty of openings.

Continue reading…

Project Examining I-84 Through Hartford in Second Phase

Posted on Friday, January 22 2010 by Heather Brandon

Public workshop on I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Public workshop on I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Last month, the I-84 Viaduct Hub of Hartford steering committee met with representatives from CRCOG and Goody Clancy to hear a wrap-up of the first phase of the consultant’s study of the highway through the city.

Phase two has been launched, estimated to be complete by the end of February, with a second public input meeting tentatively planned for some time next month.

The Hub of Hartford is defined as “a lively and walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income urban place, a regional crossroads centered on Union Station, where business, government, community and recreational uses integrate seamlessly in a historic context supplement by compatible new development. …Cyclists, walkers and transit riders [will] share the road comfortably with automobiles.”

Boston-based Goody Clancy was hired by the city of Hartford and CRCOG to conduct the study assessing possibilities for the viaduct, an elevated portion of I-84 snaking through and disrupting the street grid at the center of the city. According to Ken Krayeske’s report about the initial public workshop on November 19, the city is funding the study with $100,000, while CRCOG is channeling $200,000 in federal funds. Continue reading…

Transit No Longer a Priority for Springfield’s Union Station

Posted on Monday, January 11 2010 by Heather Brandon

Union Station in Springfield. Photo by H Brandon

Union Station in Springfield. Photo © H Brandon

According to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, the agency is no longer handling the major redevelopment effort of Springfield’s Union Station. Instead, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority will be in charge of making the project happen. The PVTA so far had been on the verge of hiring a project manager, as requests for qualifications had already gone out to bid, but it has been stopped in its tracks.

Some say the reasons are political.

On the surface, the reason is this: transit is no longer the number one priority for the redevelopment effort. Instead, the priority is economic development, with transit coming in second.

Put another way, the priority for this transportation development project is no longer, in a word, transportation. Perhaps instead the aim is being able to channel the large amounts of federal funding, with transit a distant consideration. Instead the project’s main priority will be labeled “economic development.” Transit is ostensibly now a second tier priority.

The two priorities could go hand in hand, and moving the project forward could be regarded as more important than such labels at this stage of things. It seems a shame and a show of unnecessary disregard to oust the PVTA from leadership of the project in addition to demoting transit in significance. What did transit ever do to the SRA?

Last year, the PVTA and SRA were able to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (PDF) outlining how they would work together to make Union Station an intermodal reality. Today the PVTA confirmed that the memorandum is now null and void. An announcement is scheduled for Wednesday at noon by PVTA administrator Mary MacInnes on the change in priorities.

Integrating a City-Based Transportation Plan

Posted on Thursday, December 31 2009 by Heather Brandon

The public is invited to a meeting on Tuesday, January 5, 5:30 pm at Hartford City Hall for a city council planning and economic development committee meeting focusing on transportation initiatives. Updates will be offered on various plans in the works, and representatives will be present from the state, region and city in a sort of unprecedented opportunity to consider multiple levels of activity and potential.

An email sent this morning from City Councilman Jim Boucher noted:

In recent years, Hartford transportation strategies have been the subject of significant study and planning, and in many ways have become a core priority to the city’s future development related to strengthening connections to other major cities (Springfield, New Britain, New Haven, New York, Boston); connecting to Bradley International Airport; strengthening mass transit options; providing shovel-ready opportunities; and renewing more favorable transportation and community development options (Hub of Hartford; major avenue enhancements).

At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee will consider recent planning developments and their relationship to local economic development, as well as further steps the city can take to support the initiatives.

The meeting will include State Rep. David McCluskey, Hartford Chief Operating Officer David Panagore, Director of DPW Kevin Burnham, CRCOG representatives Lyle Wray and Tom Maziarz, and Hub of Hartford steering committee chairman Bob Painter.

A Visit to Hartford’s 410 Asylum Avenue

Posted on Wednesday, December 16 2009 by Heather Brandon

Continue reading…

Themes Emerge from Hartford Planning, Visioning Meetings

Posted on Wednesday, December 2 2009 by Heather Brandon

Hartford COO David Panagore introduces the mobility and transit theme. Photo © H Brandon

Hartford COO David Panagore introduces the mobility and transit theme, November 21 at Union Station. Photo © H Brandon

With just one meeting to go in a series of five as part of Hartford’s efforts to renew its plan of conservation and development (see hartford.gov/oneplan), some discernible themes are emerging from small group discussions and panelist reactions.

The strongest ideas I’ve noticed relate to transportation needs especially as they relate to how easily and safely the city can be walked or biked, as well as filling in gaps in the city’s physical fabric, whether it’s vacant lots or empty storefronts, so there is a sense of activity, and so that increasing numbers of varied retail shops can be attracted to commercial centers. These themes were especially salient at last night’s meeting focusing on downtown (at the Lincoln Culinary Institute) as well as the meeting on November 21 (at Union Station) focusing on mobility and transit.

The final meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 8, from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at the Connecticut Science Center downtown, free and open to the public. The theme is integration of sustainable practices.

Continue reading…

Signs of Vitality

Posted on Tuesday, November 17 2009 by Heather Brandon

Clearly a few things are happening here

Clearly a few things are happening here. Photo © H Brandon

Walking around New Haven recently, I came across this interesting telephone pole (pictured) outside the York Street House of Noodles.

While countless staples and wads of paper remnants aren’t terribly attractive on a telephone pole—I find the net effect is a sort of permanently bedraggled snow-blown look—their lingering presence speaks volumes about the vitality of the community around it. The sheer quantity of staples alone tells us this telephone pole has seen a lot of pieces of paper.

These staples tell a story of people reaching out in one of the most basic ways we know how—and not through paid advertising, nor even necessarily through legally sanctioned means. A community nearby is looking to find people, attract them, notify them, sell them something, or bring them together. It’s a sign of signs gone by.

Plan Much?

Posted on Tuesday, November 10 2009 by Heather Brandon

Hartford, bisected.

Hartford, bisected.

If you were suffering from a dearth of planning meetings related to the city of Hartford, ’tis the season to rejoice. Or cry. Or both.

We are entering a month-long, intense phase of significant public meetings related to planning efforts. On one hand, this is an exciting time for any subset of city residents really eager to participate on this subject. Consider your dance card full.

On the other hand, it sure would be nice if these meetings were either condensed or spread out just a bit, especially considering that the every-ten-years Plan of Conservation and Development is five years late or so, and the I-84 Viaduct study has been unfolding, now in the capable hands of Boston-based consultant Goody Clancy, for several months. But beggars the public can’t be choosers.

Surely those who scheduled these meetings gave plenty of consideration to what it would be like for the average citizen to try to attend. Yet still we are faced with all this good stuff—these gem-like opportunities to engage as residents with our esteemed planning experts and elected officials, non-profit heads and business representatives—crammed into a short time. In the case of the POCD meetings, we’ll have six opportunities, at six locations, on six topics, to learn, share thoughts, and exchange ideas on the big planning picture. And smack in the middle of those six meetings is the first of three Goody Clancy sponsored “public workshops” as part of the viaduct study.

Continue reading…

Hartford Board of Education Election Results

Posted on Wednesday, November 4 2009 by Heather Brandon

From left: Hudson, Brad Noel, Cotto, and Davila. Photos by H Brandon

From left: Hudson, Brad Noel, Cotto, and Rodriguez-Davila. Photos by H Brandon

The results aren’t yet official, but The winners of the four elected seats on the Hartford Board of Education appear to be are Lori Hudson (D), Elizabeth Brad Noel (WFP), Robert Cotto, Jr. (WFP), and Luis Rodriguez-Davila (D). Read more about them at last week’s forum in a blog post at Real Hartford.

The fifth vote-getter, Sharon Patterson-Stallings (WFP) lost by an initial 17 vote count. Early word last night was that it was just a 12-vote difference.

A total of 9,904 people 3,527 people cast 9,904 ballots in the election. This is a drop in voter participation from 2005, the last time the board of education was elected. That year, 10,284 votes were cast, and the highest vote-getter (Andrea Comer) received 2,453 votes.

To see how each district broke down, take a look at the results (PDF) from the city’s Registrar of Voters Office. (Thanks to Brendan Mahoney for providing them.) The voting districts in the table coincide with this map (PDF) showing where they are in the city.

Here are the total numbers for the four winning candidates:

Lori Hudson: 1,472
Elizabeth Brad Noel: 1,441
Robert Cotto, Jr.: 1,261
Luis Rodriguez-Davila: 1,208

While making calls on Monday to help get out the vote, on behalf of the Hartford Votes Coalition, I found that about two thirds of the numbers I called were no longer in service. It made me wonder how accurate our voter participation numbers really are. The 2005 statistic is said to be about 8.5 percent of the city’s voting population, and this year it’s said to be about 7 percent. But we may have fewer voters than we think. How accurate is our voter list?

Trinity College Campus Lockdown… in Tweets

Posted on Friday, October 23 2009 by Heather Brandon

behindtherocksYesterday at about 5:30 pm, according to a report in the Courant, police in Hartford responded to a report of a robbery at a McDonald’s restaurant at 507 Flatbush Avenue. The 21-year-old armed and dangerous suspect was reported to be barefoot, wearing tan shorts and a grey t-shirt over a grey long-sleeved shirt. He evidently fled the scene in a truck and witnesses were able to provide a description. The truck was spotted shortly thereafter, at about 6:10 pm, on Bonner Street not far from the Trinity College campus, where I happened to be headed for a 6:30 pm class. When I arrived at 6:20, there were police all over the steep, wooded hill between Summit and Zion Streets.

By 7:00 pm, the college campus was put under a lockdown—the first time anyone I’ve spoken to can remember such a thing happening. Below is a chronicle of the events as they unfolded on Twitter. As one of the people stuck on campus and witnessing the event first-hand, it was a great relief to be able to interact via tweets with people not on the scene using this often rather frivolous social media tool.

People in my classroom were not terribly flustered, even though our building was right along Summit Street and we could later overhear police trying to negotiate with the suspect using a megaphone, and we observed police with large guns posted up and down Summit. SWAT officers were brought in as well as a search helicopter after the suspect fired shots shortly before 8:00 pm. The scene outside was grim.

Continue reading…

Something to Say Hartford is No. 1

Posted on Wednesday, October 14 2009 by Heather Brandon

A massive vision for renewal for the Hartford riverfront. Hartford Courant, May 5, 1998.

A massive vision of renewal for the Hartford riverfront. Hartford Courant, 5/5/98

What tells you that your own city is the pick of the litter? Is it the number of miles of interstate highway you can boast within your boundaries? Hugest swaths of public park land? Size of your development parcels? Number of Dunkin Donut franchises? Largest quantity of taxable properties? Biggest block parties?

In early 1998, such a victory could be claimed for Hartford, or so the thinking went at the time for a key advisory panel, if the downtown riverfront area were developed with 1,000 housing units, a convention center, retail stores, movie theaters, and park land—crowned with a massive sports stadium.

A stadium would say Hartford is number one. Hartford Courant, 3/22/98

A stadium would say Hartford is number one. Hartford Courant, 3/22/98

The stadium was envisioned for concerts and large sports events, among other things. Governor Jodi Rell, then lieutenant governor, chaired the panel that proposed the plan, fueled by a combination of public and private dollars. A state authority was created to oversee and coordinate the numerous efforts, many of which have come to fruition in one way or another over the ensuing decade—except for the sports stadium, which was in some respects a real driving force behind the entire plan, as originally conceived.

A March 22, 1998 article in the Hartford Courant (pictured above, right) quoted one of the panel members, Anthony Autorino, saying of the stadium, “We needed something that was really going to say, ‘Hartford is No. 1.’ It needed something bold.”

The sports stadium simply never came to be. How can we now know if Hartford is number one?

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Hartford Charter Revision Commission Submits Recommended Changes

Posted on Friday, May 15 2009 by Heather Brandon

The Hartford Charter Revision Commission, after five months of meetings, voted unanimously last night to approve its recommended changes (PDF) to the city charter. The previous evening the commission held a legally required public hearing at the downtown library branch. The public was also invited to be heard at almost every meeting of the commission prior to last night’s vote.

In his letter today to Dan Carey, the city clerk, commission chairman Rich Wareing outlined the essentials of the recommended charter changes. See the entire letter below.

Broadly, revisions include changes to the makeup of the City Council (a hybrid system, with eight elected at large and five by district); a related change to staggered terms of office for City Council; clarification of compensation provisions, including making it clear City Council can reduce its own compensation; changing the mayor’s involvement on the Board of Education to an ex-officio, non-voting member who cannot be chairperson; mandating an Ethics Commission; giving the City Council sole authority to appoint a three-member freedom of information advisory board; a new protocol for the appointment of boards and commissions that would give City Council authority if the mayor fails to act in a given time period, and if City Council fails to act, the boards and commissions themselves would have the authority to reappoint; clarification that there may be three (rather than just two) Registrars of Voters (required by state statute); and some changes to the language related to the city’s corporation counsel (more on that in Wareing’s outline, under item number 6).

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Hartford Arts Stimulus Prompts 70+ Letters of Intent

Posted on Wednesday, April 29 2009 by Heather Brandon

City officials present the arts stimulusApologies for my hiatus while I worked on a term paper. Back to business: Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez (pictured, at center) announced this evening that the city’s Department of Development Services received over 70 letters of intent Monday in response to its announcement two weeks ago welcoming proposals for its arts and heritage jobs grant program. Formal applications are due Monday, May 11, with award notification some time in June.

Proposals for funding may range between $10,000 and $200,000 in any of three categories.

The mayor’s office announced that 12 proposals arrived in the category of facilities improvement, totaling over $1,500,000 in requests; 42 in new or expanded works, totaling over $3,000,000; and 17 in youth employment, totaling over $1,500,000. Two additional proposals totaling $250,000 arrived without a category, which brings the grand total for likely applications to about $6.4 million.

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Will the City Arts Stimulus Create Jobs for Artists?

Posted on Wednesday, April 15 2009 by Heather Brandon

In his state of the city address last month, Mayor Eddie Perez announced what he called a Hartford arts stimulus—a proposed $1.7 million increase in grants to Hartford arts organizations to “create new works, new performances, and expand facilities.” He anticipated the stimulus would create hundreds of new jobs in the city—and would be used exclusively (the mayor’s language) to create new Hartford jobs. He added that funding for the arts stimulus would come from reprogrammed city funds as well as federal grants.

A release issued this week by the Greater Hartford Arts Council—a regional non-profit organization based in Hartford—indicates that at some point in the last month, the mayor’s stated goal of exclusively creating new jobs with this funding got massaged into a different kind of goal.

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At Billings Forge in Frog Hollow, Broad Street, Hartford

Posted on Wednesday, April 8 2009 by Heather Brandon

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