Land Matters Podcast
Situated almost exactly in between Boston and New York, Hartford, Connecticut, is a classic mid-sized legacy city with great potential for reinvention. In this episode of the Land Matters podcast, planning commissioner Sara Bronin talks about the cutting-edge urban planning practices she hopes will put the city back on the map, after decades of decline.
“In light of the city’s structural challenges in terms of how it gets taxes and how it relates to the state, we’ve really felt within the city we have to take matters into our own hands,” Bronin says. Among the revitalization initiatives: a complete overhaul of an outdated zoning code, which has smoothed the way for lower-cost redevelopment of abandoned factories and other historic buildings now accommodating makers spaces and craft breweries.
An architect and law professor, Bronin helped kick off the Lincoln Institute’s recent scenario planning workshop in Hartford, put on in partnership with the Capitol Region Council of Governments. The metropolitan region is starting to use scenario planning to project multiple futures for the area, in housing, economic development, and transportation.
With a population of about 125,000 – nearly 1 million including the communities all around it—Hartford is the state capital and the fourth largest city in the state. Once a center of innovation and commerce—inventions include firearms, typewriters, tools, sewing machines, bicycles, and even one of the nation’s first electric cars, plus the beginnings of the modern-day insurance industry – Hartford endured population and manufacturing loss, a decline in property tax revenue, crime and high unemployment dating back at least to the 1960s.
Adding to the challenges, a portion of Interstate 84 through downtown has reached the end of its lifespan, and needs to be rebuilt or reconfigured. Possible solutions include replacing sections with surface boulevards, lowering portions of the freeway, or building extensive tunnels for both vehicular traffic and high-speed rail.
That last proposal suggests a path to renewal through some big-picture thinking. Under the Rebooting New England initiative, Amtrak’s high-speed Acela route would go through Hartford between New York and Boston, placing the city at the center of a new Northeast megaregion – and instantly opening up housing and labor markets through faster connections among all the cities of southern New England. The proposal was inspired by the UK's Northern Powerhouse effort linking older industrial cities north of London.
Zoning reform, scenario planning, major infrastructure investments, and megaregions are all in the mix, and get thorough consideration in this wide-ranging conversation.
Anthony Flint is senior fellow in the Office of the President at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Photograph: Sara Bronin speaks at the third annual Consortium for Scenario Planning Conference, which took place in November in Hartford, Connecticut. Credit: Diego Lomelli Trejo.