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.

Busy schedule of POCD meetings

Busy schedule of POCD meetings

The city’s COO, David Panagore, has mentioned the need to begin to craft a plan that really includes the whole city, and not just piecemeal, not just in corridors, not just in parcels. Hartford has many plans, perhaps too many that are too scattered, and none that take a look at the big picture and weave together the best aspects so the planning work the city has engaged for quite some time now can begin to yield some action—and not just more planning.

Thus the POCD plan takes center stage under the title, “One City, One Plan,” just to bring home the idea that this may be the great Mother of All Plans.

Trumbull Street. Photo by H Brandon

Trumbull Street. Photo © H Brandon

Perhaps it will include the bizarre yet infused-with-possibly-very-good-ideas iQuilt proposal (PDF). Just maybe it will integrate some of the difficult-to-brand “trident” concepts from the Ken Greenberg plan known as Hartford 2010 with its difficult-to-comprehend “trident reports” from earlier this year. (Did you know those were being carried out? No?) There also is the restricted-to-certain-districts Urban Land Institute advisory services panel report (PDF) from 2007, which has been rather dutifully ignored and shelved from all that I can tell.

Hartfords Pratt Street. Photo © H Brandon

Hartford's Pratt Street. Photo © H Brandon

And let us not forget the viaduct study, which has ramifications for neighbor towns, the Hartford region, the state, and all of New England, considering I-84′s heavy use, and the fact that it includes considering multimodal transit—which only points to more planning consultant opportunities. We have no shortage of plans. This short list only scratches the surface.

The first POCD meeting is this week: Thursday, November 12, 6:00 pm, at the downtown library. The city planning division has chosen the first topic to be “What is a Plan of Conservation and Development?” with a moderated panel of experts who will hopefully do plenty of listening and not just talking.

The moderator will be Alejandro Pedreira of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute of Political Social Work. The panel is said to include Heidi Green, in her capacity as executive director of 1000 Friends of Connecticut (although she is stepping down and taking up a position at Trinity College); Emily Moos of the Capitol Region Council of Governments; David Kooris, of the Regional Plan Association; Mark Mitchell of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice; and Panagore.

CRCOG's land use policy map: abstract art?

CRCOG's land use policy map: abstract art?

By the way: on October 21, CRCOG adopted its own plan of conservation and development as well (not yet ready for publication). What, you don’t like reading plans? Try reading this memo (PDF) from July about the process and the main points of the plan. At left: a sample of CRCOG’s land use policy map (PDF). …What, you don’t like maps? (This one has a unique brand of charm, but watch out, it’s a huge file.)

Other POCD public meetings are scheduled for November 14, 16, and 21, and December 1 and 8. Again, each one has a different topic: promoting sustainable neighborhoods; protecting the city’s natural and built environment; enhancing mobility; advancing downtown; and promoting sustainability. They take place at different locations and times, generally evenings and Saturday mornings.

Attending all the meetings wins you a key to the city and a t-shirt if you get your little card stamped six times.

In the case of the viaduct study, an open house and public workshop have been scheduled for Thursday, November 19, from 3:00 to 5:30 pm and 7:00 to 9:00 pm respectively. Please consider visiting and seeing what they have to present, and beg and cajole your friends, neighbors and co-workers to do the same. In order to maintain good public involvement, the event needs attendance, but marketing isn’t really an option—and CRCOG isn’t well-connected to Hartford neighborhoods. Will residents turn out for this event? This is our chance to see what’s going on and offer our two cents.

Goody Clancy is engaged a roughly year-long process, ostensibly in partnership with city officials, local residents, various other stakeholders, and planning experts, to explore and evaluate alternatives for replacing the elevated highway through the city. The main factors, according to a scope of work (PDF) provided by Goody Clancy last spring, are public support and technical viability—presumably including weighing potential cost.

In the scope of work, the consultants laid out a plan for two half-day community workshop sessions months apart, with a final, major community summit toward the end of the process. A newsletter (PDF) has been made available providing more information; the second public workshop is tentatively scheduled to take place by the end of February, with a final “public summit” slated for late spring.

Their idea of “half day” for this first meeting is now boiled down to the afternoon open house and the two-hour highly structured workshop. Good ideas will hopefully emerge, but how much public input is desired is another question. The workshop will include three different facilitated working groups that will look strictly at three different topics: transportation, economic development, and urban/community design. If you care about these topics, or even if you don’t, please attend—either way, you’ll have something to learn, or something to offer.

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