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.)
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.