Week 6. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project: Perspectives from Real Estate Developers and Displaced People


The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is currently in the early stages, but the goal is for it to contribute to Ahmedabad’s global recognition as a riverfront city. Since other cities have used their riverfronts as a means of financial development, Ahmedabad similarly aims to use its riverfront to bring the city a renewed identity. The Sabarmati River, with its location between the East and West, is perfectly positioned to boost commercial and real estate development.

The Riverfront is intended to be a public space. Since the project is relatively young, attempts to clean up and beautify the river have begun and new trees and benches have been placed along the riverfront.  Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is in charge of the local development and was handed the project by the Gujarat government. AMC has agreed to make 86% of the land for public use and 14% for commercial use. The land rights are not being completely sold to developers; instead a deal was made that maintains the project fully public. Developers are able to build on the land and have rights to the land for ninety-nine years and then they have to renew the contracts. The bidding process will be managed by the AMC, but there is no exact time frame on when that process will begin. Speculations have been rising that the bidding prices will be starting as soon as the end of February or early March. There has not been much development yet, so there is less competition for the land. The land will be bought cheaply by the developers who will in turn expect a huge profit margin for the development that will be done. Real estate developers are anticipated to build luxurious high rise residential apartments, hotels, and malls along the riverfront. Part of the agreement with the 14% commercial space is that the commercial property will fund the entire development project in the long run. The upcoming development will attract people to visit the riverfront and create a more vibrant atmosphere. Tourism will rise and people from all around the world can visit and enjoy a leisurely walk on the Sabarmati Riverfront. Once built, this new commercial district will create a profit opportunity for the developers. The developers are involved with this project so that the real estate capital can make this public and urban river rejuvenation project possible.


While Alex met with real estate developers, Eli met with a community of displaced people. Before the Riverfront came to be, thousands of families housed in slums lived in the area. When the project was proposed, there was no resettlement and rehabilitation plan in place for them. Later, it was decided that they would live on the same land in apartment buildings but this plan was scrapped when developers realized that the land was too profitable to use to resettle families. Thus, they were displaced to the periphery of the city. This displacement was not considerate of their preferences at all. Families’ entire lives were uprooted; adults had to change occupations because of the distance from city center and children had to change schools or drop out. Additionally, entire communities were dismantled. Families that had previously depended on support networks comprised of other families were separated from those and instead forced to live on the same floor and in the same building as people they did not know at all. Moreover, moving from “horizontal slums” to “vertical slums” was a big adjustment for this community. Because they were not accustomed to living in apartment buildings, many families threw their garbage out of windows. Issues such as these caused NGOs to step in to teach displaced people about community building and solid waste management. However, acclimation has been challenging to the point that over thirty percent of families have moved back to slums near the Riverfront Development Project in order to return to the familiar. Once there, they join those who had not been moved due to lack of documentation proving their residence in the slums before 2002. When asked how they would have changed the process of resettlement, they answered that they would have preferred to have been moved together with their neighbors instead of randomly. Whether in horizontal or vertical slums, the undeniable fact is that these people’s needs were ignored by the project developers and the government and continue to be put on the backburner.

For Eli, it was shocking to see how thousands of people’s lives were uprooted in such a haphazard way for the sake of “beautification” and “global recognition.” What is most sad is that the Riverfront is barely frequented by Amdavadis. She hopes that the displaced people of the Riverfront area will not be forgotten and will continue to receive support from NGOs trying to make a difference and providing a voice to the voiceless.

The project is ambitious and there is a lot of risks with the development. Alex thinks that the developers can over build and then the amount of attraction will not be met. The prices are not going to be affordable so the middle class has to be interested in the amenities being built. If the demand is not met, then the project will not be able to pay to be funded and the project can fail. The people make the project vibrant and therefore the developers have to think about what they will build and how many building will go up in a smart tactic.  


A New Kind of Globalism

Molly Jane Thoms ‘17

From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

            Before the Modern Period, most cities around the world were largely self-contained in terms of economics and culture. This was because immigration was minimal and communication between faraway places was almost nonexistent. Today, nearly all cities contrast from this state of self-containment as city-to-city interaction increases. This interaction through economics, politics, and sharing of ideologies and traditions is becoming ever more important for cities’ success and growth. The interplay between cities is described by a term used frequently by urban studies (and other) scholars: globalism.

Hartford, Connecticut has had two distinct historical periods that could be defined as global. The first was between 1850 and 1950, when manufacturing and insurance resulted in Hartford’s global prominence through economic connections. We are currently in the second period, which began in around 1950. This second period is characterized by the deep social and cultural connections that Hartford currently has to other cities and countries. Despite the claims many urban studies scholars may make of economics being central to global city classification, Hartford is more global today than it ever was between 1850 and 1950 due to its unique culture.

Before 1950, Hartford experienced much that would classify it as a global city by the standards of urban studies scholars such as Peter Hall, Saskia Sassen, and John Friedmann. These scholars emphasize the importance of “national centers of government, trade, and professional talents… financial services… insurance, real estate… and information processing” as elements necessary for a global city.[1] What is distinctive about this definition is its narrow focus on the economic connections and industrial power of a city. Hartford, from roughly 1850-1950, possessed many of these essential elements.

Hartford started out as a small Yankee settlement, but it experienced a period of manufacturing prominence starting in about the mid-nineteenth century and continuing into the first part of the twentieth century. Among the most important companies were Pratt and Whitney, Colt Firearms, Pope Manufacturing, Royal and Underwood typewriter companies, and Stanley Black & Decker, which exported products around the country and the globe. This international exportation certainly fits with some of Hall, Sassen, and Friedmann’s defining characteristics of a global city.

In addition to manufacturing, Hartford developed substantially in the financial sector at this time as well, mostly through insurance. Sometimes referred to as, “the insurance capital of the world,” or “America’s filing cabinet,” Hartford had many large insurance companies, among them Aetna Life and Travelers Insurance, and had national and international clients.[2] Hartford insurance companies established themselves as reliable early on, such as by effectively fulfilling claims made following the Chicago Fire of 1871.[3] Partly as a result of its insurance industry, Hartford was also a banking center for New England between 1850 and 1950.[4] Hartford’s prominence as an economic center further supports its identity as a global city – according to the definitions of Hall, Sassen, and Friedmann – between 1850 and 1950.

Hall, Sassen, and Friedman assert the importance of a global city’s strength in national and international manufacturing and economics industries. However, most of them fail to take into account the demographics of a city when considering its degree of globalism. This is to say, they establish that whether a city is global lies with the way other places in the world rely on it because of its international exportation and prominent financial sector rather than degree of globalism within the culture of the city.

It is important to note here that Hartford did have diverse immigrant populations between 1850 and 1950, but two features, which confound and add to each other, explain why they did not make Hartford as global as it is today. The first is attitudes toward immigration by the immigrants themselves. For most people coming from Ireland and even Eastern Europe at this time who were the majority of immigrants, the move to the United States was permanent because moving home would be costly, possibly dangerous, and very uncertain. People came here with the intent of staying permanently. As a result, they were more likely to convert their mentality to that of Hartford’s culture of the time.

The second feature is the state of communication technology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even if immigrants did not embrace assimilation they would have a hard time sustaining connections with family and friends in other countries because letters likely the only form of communication would be slow and barely scratch the surface of truly connecting people in Hartford to Russia, for example. These two features result in Hartford not being classified as a global city between 1850 and 1950.

What scholars Hall, Sassen, and Friedmann partly neglect in their exploration of globalism are the connections of people within the city itself to other places. This interaction seems vastly more important in a place like Hartford, which will never be the most powerful, influential, or lucrative city in the United States. Therefore, scrutinizing Hartford’s globalism can be refocused to see how the people within the city itself relate to many other places in the world, rather than the other way around, which is how Hall, Sassen, and Friedmann define a global city. I would like to call this concept internal globalism.

The definition of internal globalism goes beyond saying that a city has an ‘international feeling,’ or is ‘multicultural.’ While these are valid factors in establishing a city as internally global, the most important aspect of internal globalism is that people within the city are strongly connected to other places and people outside it. This new definition is tailored for non-top tier cities like Hartford today and cannot be applied to Hartford between 1850 and 1950.

Hartford today epitomizes internal globalism. The city is currently a minority-majority city with several unique aspects of its diversity. While Hartford has many Black people, who don’t necessarily contribute to the city’s globalism, unless they are Caribbean immigrants (such as Jamaica), the other major minority in Hartford is Latinos. Many of these people, primarily Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans, likely maintain much of their Latin American culture if not specific transnational ties. Also contributing to Hartford’s unique demographics is its astonishingly high percentage of 21.5 foreign-born residents. Many of these are voluntary immigrants from places like China and Puerto Rico, but many are refugees fleeing unsafe conditions in their home countries.

There are many refugees in Connecticut, about four percent of the total state population, and the largest numbers of them are thought to live in and around Hartford.[5] These refugees are of many different cultural groups, among them Russians, Ukrainians, Cubans, Khmer, Bosnians, Kosovar Albanians, Kurds, Afghanis, Somalis, and Nepalis (Bauer 146). Refugees add to diversity even more than traditional immigrants do because they often spend time in other countries before ultimately coming to the United States. These experiences contribute to the internal globalism of Hartford because many refugees will maintain connections they developed with people in “pre-arrival sojourn” places such as Germany in addition to connections with people in their homeland.

The large number of different groups contributes greatly to the diversity of Hartford but also the nature of their arrival. Many faced severe oppression and even torture in their home countries, many didn’t necessarily want to flee, and many still have family and friends at home who they are concerned about. For this reason, these refugees, and even the recent voluntary immigrants contrast from the immigrants who came between 1850 and 1950.

This contrast is due to changes in the two factors preventing previous generations of immigrants from maintaining deep international connections (limited communication technology and mentalities towards the permanence of immigration). For example, it is entirely possible that a Khmer family in Hartford uses video chat on a regular basis to communicate with grandparents back in Cambodia, are actively concerned about conflicts in their home country, and either wish to return or to bring relatives to Connecticut. In this example the family is able to maintain strong connections to former homelands due to advanced communication technology. This is truly what internal globalism means.

Internal globalism in the context of Hartford can be described as emphasizing the importance of the over 70 languages that are spoken in Hartford schools today rather than emphasizing the thousands of Underwood typewriters exported all over the world in the early twentieth century. Certainly for me, someone living in Hartford, the internal globalism is more important. I know that Hartford isn’t well known in other countries or even nationally, so I focus on how I can understand other parts of the world through Hartford. I look to its internal globalism. This can be seen most clearly in the interactions between ethnic communities’ vibrant cultural expression in parades and other celebrations and also their assimilation to Hartford, if not American, culture as their children all attend the same public schools.

I was able to witness some of Hartford’s globalism while interning in an eighth grade Spanish class at Hartford Magnet at Trinity College Academy. There were students in the class who were clearly Latino, but who spoke no Spanish; Latino students who could understand everything the professor said, but who couldn’t formulate their own Spanish; Black students who struggled to speak formally in English; students with distinctly Russian or Bosnian names who were likely the children of immigrants; and Indian students who had just the hint of an accent. This enormous range of students reinforced for me the complex story of Hartford’s diversity. Hartford is not just a city of diverse people living in close proximity. It is a city of people at various points in the immigration and assimilation processes interacting with each other and people in places far from Connecticut’s capitol city.

Hartford still has the economic potency and international significance that it had between 1850 and 1950. For scholars like Hall, Sassen, and Friedman this would be Hartford’s most global period. However, Hartford’s additional layer of internal globalism through the social interconnection of immigrants and refugees to former places makes it more comprehensively global today than ever before.


[1] Chen, Xiangming, and John Shemo. “Shifting Fortunes: Hartford’s Global and Regional Economic Dimensions.” Pp. 193-218 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[2] Walsh, Andrew. “Hartford: A Global History.” Pp. 21-45 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[3] Chen and Shemo, 2013,  p. 198.

[4] Ibid, p. 198.

[5] Bauer, Janet. “A Metro Immigrant Gateway: Refugees in the Hartford Borderlands.” Pp. 145-168 in Confronting Urban Legacy Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.( p. 146)

We’re Not That Poor: The True Concept of Being a “Poor” City

Jennifer Tran ‘17

An Essay for From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

What is “urban poverty”? Can (or should) we measure “urban poverty” solely on statistics such the ones above or with some subjectivity? What truly constitutes a “poor” city? Despite a stunning skyline, home to a host of prominent international companies, and well-known as the “connective corridor” between Boston and New York City and the “insurance capital of the world,” Hartford, Connecticut is considered to be the fourth poorest city in the nation. But how? The urban core dynamic of Hartford, Connecticut plays a significant role in helping Hartford achieve a rather skewed statistic about its wealth and role in the New England region – Downtown, supposed to be the heart of any older city, is supposed to be the most vibrant part of Hartford, but also has become an often marginalized place that has lost its identity with a slew of development.

Growing up in Syracuse, New York, a city with a population of 130,000 people and whose regional power extends dozens of miles from its downtown core, I found that almost no neighborhood in the city and its surrounding suburbs that was “poor.” Abandoned warehouses and factories along the once prominent manufacturing hub on the East side formed a sad residual on the city landscape, but left me undaunted about the city’s wealth and influence in Upstate New York. Only two miles away from the East side, Syracuse’s four main hospitals were expanding and Syracuse University was receiving a peak number of applications and starting construction on a transport system that could bus 30,000 of its students to Downtown every day and would allow Syracuse University Hill residents to ride on a bike-only lane to Downtown and other parts of the city. Hancock International Airport and Amtrak/Bus station on the North end of the city were seeing record traffic flows and receiving great interest from airlines, bus companies, and government institutions to expand services from Syracuse.

Despite a school district where roughly only eight percent of the student body met the New York State testing standards in Math and English, Syracuse was named the fourth best city to raise a family and ranked sixth in education in the entire country (“In Pictures”). Furthermore, Syracuse is a city whose neighborhoods are interconnected and drive a community atmosphere – nearly all of classmates associate themselves with at least one community within the city – “Little Italy,” “Little Saigon,” “Irish Tipp Hill Community,” and much more.

My perspective on a “poor” city became even more perplexing while I was driving on Interstate 84 in Connecticut and after taking a short glimpse of the Connecticut River, I was overwhelmed by the Hartford skyline backdrop as the Interstate looped around the city. Prior to leaving Syracuse, I considered Hartford to be “very similar” to Syracuse: a grand expose of tall skyscrapers and old historic New England buildings. How could a city of that size boast so many prestigious corporate headquarters and regional offices and maintain thousands of jobs within its Downtown core? How could the city of Hartford, despite its proximity to Boston and New York City, have a hospital that is larger in square footage than Syracuse’s five hospitals combined (also considering Syracuse is the only city within a one hundred mile radius and a 1.5 hour drive – comparable from Hartford to Boston)? And yet, interestingly enough, how could Hartford be “poorer” than Syracuse based on median family income (especially when I and other Syracuse residents can argue that Hartford is not “poorer” than Syracuse, see the comparative statistics below)? Even more debatable is how are two relatively vibrant Northeast medium-sized cities considered two of the fifteen poorest cities in the United States?[1] 


Hartford, CT

Syracuse, NY

Median Household Income (in 2011)



Unemployment (July 2013)



Median Home Price (in 2011)



Land Area in Square Miles (as of 2010)



A closer examination of Hartford’s poverty requires us to look at more than just household income statistics, median home prices, and other common economic data. Hartford, a city with a relatively vibrant Downtown, connected communities, and still very essential businesses to the greater region, challenges us to understand the true dynamics behind the city and why these dynamics may cause it (and other “strong” American cities) to be classified as “poor.” If you take a bus ride to Downtown Hartford on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, it is eerily quiet and many times, you will find yourself to be one of the handfuls of people walking around downtown in a mist of silence. However, if you take a ride to downtown Hartford on a weekday evening, you will find that you will be mixed in a flurry of downtown workers completing errands before businesses close down and catching the evening bus back home (and driving home). Similarly, downtown Syracuse is nearly empty on the weekends and all of the pedestrians and parked cars that crowd along its one-way roads on the weekdays escape the city for the weekend.

Both Hartford and Syracuse suffer from a pattern that Andrew Walsh of Trinity College in his essay, “Hartford: A Global History,” calls as the development of a “functional unit where the vast majority of residents living and working in sprawling, low-density suburbs.”[2] Unlike downtown areas in other cities, downtown Hartford has a much lower number of people living in it (about 1,235 people) than work in it (how is downtown defined? each weekday (about 50,000 people).[3] The small number of people living in downtown Hartford in comparison to its massive workforce causes the area to essentially lose its vitality after business hours and on the weekends – discouraging developers from opening businesses that could compete with the likes of Blueback Square and Westfarms Mall in West Hartford or even Charter Oak Place in Hartford.

Though there are statistics that indicate that there is a growing demand for Downtown housing in the past few years and recent Downtown housing projects such as Hartford 21 on Trumbull Street, The Lofts on Main Street, and 915 Main Street are at nearly full capacity, Downtown Hartford has not been able to attract a diverse mix of people. Downtown Hartford tends to attract a high number of young single people interested in one bedroom apartments – therefore, almost eliminating the family apartment or single home real estate business in Downtown altogether – and a wealthier population as much of its most prominent apartment complexes cost nearly $2,000 a month to rent.[4] The composition of Downtown Hartford living units makes it almost impossible for a middle-class family to move into the area and any retail or restaurant businesses in the area to serve a diverse mix of people with various income levels. Though Downtown Hartford does not lack jobs or a growing number of young, wealthy people moving into its numerous new, sleek apartment buildings, Downtown Hartford is a relatively “poor” urban center as it does not foster a family centered environment and marginalizes most low-income and lower middle class residents.

How about the tall skyscrapers and modern architecture that line the Hartford skyline and overlook Interstate 84? Can a city’s infrastructure still measure a city’s wealth? To some, it can be a subjective factor that indicates a city’s wealth – with only four tall commercial buildings (more than 19 floors), Syracuse seemed like almost a destitute city compared to Hartford whose towering skyline and mix of old architecture is quite stunning.[5],[6] When examining the architecture and built environment of Downtown Hartford, I noticed that Downtown Hartford has a rather unique, but yet depressed landscape. Downtown Hartford’s buildings convey a historical transformation: From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, Downtown Hartford was one of the nation’s fastest growing office space markets and well-known buildings such as City Place, 777 Main Street, 280 Trumbull, and One Financial Plaza were constructed during the time period.[7] However, today, the eeriness and silence of some parts of Downtown are not only because of Downtown workers have left their jobs for the day or because Downtown has few residents, but also because nearly one-third of Downtown Hartford’s office space remains empty. Hartford’s office space market severely declined in 2010 when office space vacancy in Downtown jumped from 18.3 percent to 32.3 percent. In 2010, ING, the Dutch insurance company, relocated from State House Square in Downtown Hartford to its current 475,000-square-foot headquarters in the nearby suburb of Windsor.[8] Last winter, walking down Main Street, I found it surprising that the former Bank of America building on 777 Main was completely empty – and saw that the abandoned building did not fit in with its surroundings (a busy bus stop in front of the Old State House and adjacent to the United Technologies Building). Furthermore, while looking across from Constitution Plaza, the abandoned Connecticut River Plaza towers waved a grand and yet, hopeless “For Lease” banner on its side facade. Inside some of Downtown Hartford’s top buildings was virtually nothing – and though they may seem grand on the outside, their “emptiness” was creating an economically stagnant Hartford.

And unfortunately, Hartford’s revitalization plans for its abandoned buildings are not very promising either. The former Bank of America tower on Main Street will be converted into a twenty-two story apartment complex whose rent prices expected to range from $800 to $1,900 a month will still be out of reach for most low to middle income Hartford residents. The Bank of America tower revitalization joins other office space to apartment conversions in the Downtown area which causes the concern that Downtown Hartford could become oversaturated with high-end (and mostly) one bedroom apartments in the next coming years.[9] Constitution River Plaza has recently been acquired by the Connecticut State Government which is an alternative to office space to apartment conversion, but further eliminates the chance of Hartford receiving tax revenue from the building’s tenants. Despite these investments in Downtown Hartford and City Hall’s rather enthusiastic candidness on them, Downtown Hartford’s stunning skyline is lacking the true developments that will develop into a diverse and welcoming urban center for Hartford residents of all backgrounds. Downtown Hartford’s dilemma with repurposing its historic infrastructure and struggle to make its main Downtown corridor attractive to strong businesses will continue to make Downtown Hartford “impoverished.”

When one comes from Hartford, Connecticut hailing from a small to medium sized city that is supposed to be “comparable” to Hartford, one can recognize that Hartford does not seem to be the fourth poorest city in the nation. Hartford does not seem poor – in fact, it looks like it trumps many “richer” cities in the U.S. Walking around Downtown, one would be impressed by the numerous prestigious company logos on various buildings, towering skyscrapers, and the seemingly hundreds of people around the area. But with close examination, one would wonder, “Why are some of Hartford’s top skyscrapers unlit during the night?” and “Why is that Downtown Hartford attracts mostly upper middle class young people?” The answers to the questions help people better recognize why Hartford is poor – and not just basing off of common economic statistics determining a city’s wealth.


[1] Dougherty, Jack. “Investigating Spatial Inequality with the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project.” Pp. 110-26 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2013. p. 112.

[2] Walsh, Andrew. “Hartford: A Global History.” Pp. 21-45 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2013. p. 42.

[3] Boyle, Daniel K. Practices in the Development and Deployment of Downtown Circulators. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2011. p. 32.

[4] Green, Rick. “Downtown Hartford: New Life in Downtown Hartford – Hartford Courant.” Featured Articles From The Hartford Courant. The Hartford Courant, 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://articles.courant.com/2011-08-09/community/hc-green-downtown-0810-20110809_1_hartford-steam-boiler-hartford-business-improvement-district-main-street>.

[5] “Hartford’s Tallest Buildings – Top 20 | Statistics | EMPORIS.” EMPORIS – Building Data and Construction Projects Worldwide. EMPORIS GMBH, 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.<http://www.emporis.com/statistics/tallest-buildings-hartford-ct-usa>.

[6] “Syracuse’s Tallest Buildings – Top 20 | Statistics | EMPORIS.” EMPORIS – Building Data and Construction Projects Worldwide. EMPORIS GMBH, 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <http://www.emporis.com/statistics/tallest-buildings-syracuse-ny-usa>.

[7] Walsh, 2013, p. 40.

[8] Chen, Xiangming and John Shemo. “Shifting Fortunes: Hartford’s Global and Regional Economic Dimensions.” Pp. 193-218 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2013. p. 172.

[9] Gosselin, Kenneth R. “Downtown Hartford Office Buildings Nearly One-Third Empty – Hartford Courant.” Featured Articles From The Hartford Courant. The Hartford Courant, 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <http://articles.courant.com/2011-01-18/business/hc-office-market-hartford-0118-20110117_1_office-vacancies-connecticut-river-plaza-office-market>.

“Hartford, Connecticut (CT 06106) Profile: Population, Maps, Real Estate, Averages, Homes, Statistics, Relocation, Travel, Jobs, Hospitals, Schools, Crime, Moving, Houses, News, Sex Offenders:.” City-Data.com – Stats about All US Cities – Real Estate, Relocation Info, Crime, House Prices, Cost of Living, Races, Home Value Estimator, Recent Sales, Income, Photos, Schools, Maps, Weather, Neighborhoods, and More:. Onboard Informatics, 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/city/Hartford-Connecticut.html>.

“In Pictures: America’s Best Places To Raise A Family: Syracuse, NY.” Forbes.com. Forbes, 07 June 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/04/best-places-family-lifestyle-real-estate-cities-kids_slide_8.html>.

“Syracuse, New York (NY) Profile: Population, Maps, Real Estate, Averages, Homes, Statistics, Relocation, Travel, Jobs, Hospitals, Schools, Crime, Moving, Houses, News, Sex Offenders:.” City-Data.com – Stats about All US Cities – Real Estate, Relocation Info, Crime, House Prices, Cost of Living, Races, Home Value Estimator, Recent Sales, Income, Photos, Schools, Maps, Weather, Neighborhoods, and More:. Onboard Informatics, 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/city/Syracuse-New-York.html>.

Hartford and Hamden: A Comparative View of Income Disparity and Governance

Andrew Calabrese ‘17 

An Essay for From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

In the course of American history, few urban centers have experienced as tumultuous a rise and fall as the city of Hartford, Connecticut.  Once one of the country’s most powerful economic centers, Hartford has struggled mightily in recent times, having fallen victim to rapid deindustrialization and suburbanization during the middle of the twentieth century.  While downtown remains at most viable (just viable at best) on the back of the financial services industry, much of the city is characterized by intense poverty and isolation.  Today, Hartford is one of the poorest cities in the nation.  Yet all of these problems are set against the backdrop of a highly successful metropolitan region, in which wealth, quality education, and strong public services abound.  This dichotomy at first appears perplexing, but with deeper scrutiny is revealed to be the product of a highly fragmented political climate in which regional governance and cooperation are shunned in favor of home rule.  To understand the dynamics of the wide quality of life disparity between Hartford and its metro region, one can take a comparative view at another Connecticut polity, Hamden.  Although it is one single town and its problems do not run as deep as Hartford’s, Hamden is characterized by a similar gap between its wealthiest and poorest citizens.  By examining how a town government is able to combat such problems in Hamden, one can more fully understand what Hartford could achieve with a unified, regional mode of governance.

Since the mid-twentieth century, Hartford’s story has largely been one of deindustrialization, population decline, and rising poverty.  Due to global economic forces, the vast majority of the city’s industrial concerns either downsized significantly or moved away entirely after World War II.  Pratt & Whitney, once one of the largest employers in the region, has slashed over 30,000 jobs since the 1960s.[1]  Because of the decline in manufacturing, the overwhelming majority of Hartford’s high-skill employment is now found in the insurance industry and related fields, long the city’s dominant sector.  Although the insurance industry continues to thrive in Hartford, its dynamics present a problem that threatens the long term health of the city.  Of the 121,000 people who work in Hartford proper, 83% commute in every day, returning to the suburbs at night.[2]  Thus, the fruits of high-paying, white-collar jobs do not accrue to Hartford residents themselves, but to the residents of surrounding towns such as Glastonbury, Avon, and Simsbury.  Hartford residents are therefore often left with menial, low-wage jobs in the service sector.  Economic disparity of this sort fosters an environment in which wealthy suburban residents enjoy high property values and quality services, while Hartford residents struggle to make ends meet.

Thirty-two miles south of Hartford, nestled in the hills just north of New Haven, is the town of Hamden, CT.  Home to roughly 60,000 people, Hamden is one of New Haven’s largest suburbs, and borders on qualifying as a city itself.  Despite its suburban status, Hamden’s character is anything but cookie-cutter.  Due to its close proximity to New Haven, Hamden is home to a large number of medical professionals, academics, and other white collar employees associated with either Yale University or New Haven’s historically strong business community.  Yet this proximity to New Haven also makes it home to a large area of relative poverty, chiefly in the southern section that borders the city.  The result of this environment is a large income disparity between Hamden’s neighborhoods, with some being defined by affluence, many middle class, and some very poor.  In many ways, the preceding description could be one of the Hartford metro regions, making a comparison of Hamden and Hartford relevant in understanding the nature of income disparity and solutions aimed at dealing with it.

Perhaps the single most determinant factor in a city’s success is its wealth, measured in either GDP, property values, or tax revenue.  While social and environmental factors also have their place in “grading” a city, the supreme law of urbanism seems to be that the cities with the richest citizens are often the most successful.  The implications of an affluent tax base are obvious, as high revenues allow a local government to provide better public services across the board.  Nowhere are these implications more obvious than in Hamden and Hartford, where the respective tax bases and service provision vary markedly.  Although Hamden has a significant pocket of poverty, it is able to provide adequate services to the entire town by drawing on strong tax revenues from its more affluent areas through a kind of intra-local redistribution.  Thus, every citizen, regardless of economic background, enjoys access to quality education, police and fire, and trash removal services. While the more affluent areas of town are certainly home to more numerous and generally more successful businesses, this is a result of private development, not public action.  In terms of providing public services, Hamden puts households with drastically different economic means on an equal playing field, which is no small feat in today’s increasingly unequal urban world.  By combining affluence and poverty under one government, Hamden is able to provide its poor with the same services as its rich, somewhat softening the blow of income disparity.

Hamden’s success in providing its poor with public services stands in stark contrast to Hartford’s relative failure to do so.  Due to large demographic trends such as “white flight” and suburbanization, Hartford today finds itself as a type of metropolitan ghetto, home to the most impoverished residents of a region defined by affluence.  But unlike Hamden, which is able to use taxes from the wealthy to benefit the poor, Hartford is politically isolated from the wider metro region, putting it in a position to deal with poverty on its own.  The challenges presented by such isolation are evident in the city’s public services, which lack well behind those in more affluent suburbs.  To illustrate this point, one need not look farther than the public education system.  Once considered to be among the best in the region, Hartford Public High School nearly lost its accreditation in the 1990s as a result of the drastic urban decline taking place in the city.[3]  Meanwhile, Avon High School, located in Hartford’s wealthiest suburb, rose to occupy the region’s top spot.  The divergent fortunes of these two high schools speak to the nearly unbreakable correlation between affluence, high tax revenues, and quality education.  Unless it develops a wider and more diverse regional tax base, Hartford will likely never be able to provide the type of quality education or other services found in places like Avon, a reality that has dire implications for long-term economic and social development.  As Jason Rojas and Lyle Wray note, “Many of the challenges faced at the metropolitan level…demand regional responses that are well beyond the capacity of any single municipality.”[4]

Aside from purely quantitative measures of income and education level, one can view the differences between Hartford and Hamden through a qualitative, social lens.  Because they are unified under one government, the rich and poor of Hamden share many similar experiences, most obviously through the educational and recreational systems.  Children from affluent and impoverished backgrounds attend the local middle and high schools together, play on the same sports teams, and participate in the same clubs and activities.  This serves to foster a more coherent social system that is less defined by income and more defined by purely human qualities. It also nurtures democratic values and decreases the race and ethnic segregation. That is not to say that prejudices do not still exist, as it is unfortunately very difficult to fully eliminate racial and economic discrimination (good caveat).  Ultimately, however, Hamden’s rich and poor are tied by much stronger bonds than commonly found in disparate areas.

Contrast this experience with Hartford, which suffers from discrimination at both an urban and regional level.  As a student at Trinity, I have observed firsthand the social chasm that exists between a predominantly white, affluent student body and an overwhelmingly poor, minority neighborhood.  Many Trinity students are afraid to walk the streets of Hartford, and view campus not only as a physical bubble, but as a social one as well, a haven of wealth tucked away in a city of poverty.  These same prejudices undoubtedly exist throughout the metro region between wealthy suburbanites and poor urban dwellers.  It is important to note that such prejudice is often not the product of inherent hate or discrimination, but rather of a lack of experience interacting with people from different racial and economic backgrounds. Where Hamden is able to improve relations between races and classes through shared services, Hartford is unable to fully unite the diverse groups that comprise its fragmented metropolitan region.

Viewing the differences between Hamden and Hartford, one is able to infer a few key takeaways.  First, although a single town, Hamden demonstrates how the pains of income disparity can be eased through the integration of rich and poor into one tax base that facilitates a wide provision of quality public services.  Second, Hamden shows how the sharing of educational and recreational opportunities is able to foster a deeper understanding and connection between people of different means and backgrounds.  The implications of Hamden’s experience on Hartford’s future are obvious.  Unless the Hartford metro region comes together to either pool its tax base or jointly provide key services, it will be unable to close the socioeconomic gap between its richest and poorest citizens.  While the challenges of unifying an entire region are exponentially greater than unifying a few neighborhoods, the Hartford metro area can, and must, work towards developing some mode of cooperative governance that resembles that found in the town of Hamden.  Unless it is able to do so, the city of Hartford will find itself in an ever more precarious state, inching closer and closer to the “point of no return.”


[1] Chen, Xiangming, and John Shemo. “Shifting Fortunes: Hartford’s Global and Regional Economic Dimensions.” Pp. 193-218 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.  [2] The Metro Hartford Progress Points report 2014. Hartford: Metro Hartford Progress Points, 2014.

[3] Dougherty, Jack. “Investigating Spatial Inequality with the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project.” Pp. 110-126 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[4] Rojas, Jason, and Lyle Wray. “Metropolitan Hartford: Regional Challenges and Responses.” Pp. 236-258 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

A Need for Regional Governance in Hartford

Joy Kim ‘17

From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

            In a city with the highest poverty rates in the region and in a state with the second worst Gini coefficient nationwide, Hartford has striking disparities between its city proper and suburbs.[1] These economic inequalities and the lack of a regional government in the Greater Hartford area suggest immense fragmentation between Hartford and surrounding cities. Yet, it cannot be ignored that Hartford’s suburbs have a central city. They cannot be a “suburb of nowhere.”[2] To say that Hartford and its peripheries are not connected would fail to acknowledge the vast number of people who commute in and out of the city, who depend on the city to some extent. This raises the question of why a governing body is not formally established in the Hartford metropolitan area to address and strengthen those connections. Though Connecticut has moved away from or failed to successfully emulate county governments, a regional governing body in Hartford can have the authority and centrality to mitigate poverty and fragmentation in the metropolitan area.

Greater Hartford’s need for a formal regional government is largely due to individual municipal governments’ lack of authority. Hartford’s history has seen multiple occasions when local political authority was compromised. In 1868, the Dillon Rule stated that local governments are “mere tenants at will of the legislature,” replacing the Cooley Doctrine that asserted municipalities’ independence of state legislature.[3] This idea of home rule gave states increased leverage over local governments and was officially added to Connecticut’s constitution in Article 10 at the 1965 Constitutional Convention. Though home rule today is that a “city or town has authority under guidelines of the state legislature to frame, adopt, and amend its charter,” it remains a debate as to whether Hartford and other major cities should have special governing authority.[4] Despite such discussions, a power differential obviously exists between state and local governments in contemporary politics.

Consequently, it is crucial for county governments to serve as a buffer between the state and municipalities and between individual cities. Connecticut has not only debated over the authority it should give municipalities, but also transitioned away from formal county governments. When Democrats sought after the governor’s seat and legislative majorities in the 1959 Election, they promised to abolish “inefficient county governments.”[5] As a result of their victory, the city manager and city council’s responsibilities increased without a corresponding increase in authority or financial resources. The authority that once existed in county government was not transferred to municipalities, nor to new regional governing bodies. Such organizations as the Department of Community Affairs, Regional Council of Governments, and Regional Planning Agencies had no authority over local governments. Without truly being above cities in the hierarchy of government, these groups could not fully supplant previous county roles. They were considered so inefficient that Republican Governor Thomas Meskill terminated the Department of Community Affairs 1970 in an effort to reduce state debt. As Hartford saw the repetitive elimination of formal county governments or their substitutes, a mindset of cities being independent of each other began to form.

Nonetheless, there have been more recent efforts to establish regional governing bodies. In fact, 96 organizations seek to work on regional issues.[6] However, these many organizations do not have a single central entity. These organizations additionally lack much of the authority a formal government would have. For instance, the Capitol Region Council of Governments is unable to raise tax revenue or deliver local services, despite being the “best positioned” of such organizations.[7] Though these regional bodies strive to accomplish government work, they are seldom in a comparable position of influence. In other cases, there is resistance against expanding authority in a single organization or one that may give Hartford precedence. The Metropolitan District Commission, for example, has been delivering water and sewer services to the Hartford region since 1929, but has been limited from growth. It is, however, an organization that successfully distributes public services on a regional scale. Currently in the Hartford metro area, education, emergency services, transportation, and other public services lack a central governing authority like the MDC. Simmons said that although sharing resources regionally is ideal, it is much more challenging to execute in social issues such as housing.[8] A single organization or group of organizations, even if not in the form of official county government, must efficiently provide public services to the entire region rather than in individual cities.

Yet, Hartford also saw failed privatization efforts to create a governing body that could alleviate the city’s poverty or find alternative solutions. One such example is the Greater Hartford Process, Inc. and the Greater Hartford Community Development Corporation, which sought to create a new community in Coventry instead of solve urban sprawl in Hartford itself.[9] The project ultimately failed, especially since these private organizations had very limited power to implement ideas. Another failed privatization effort was that of the Bishops, a group of corporates who lived outside Hartford but hoped to influence the city’s aesthetics, residents, and employees. Considering that corporations reaped in three-quarters of municipal property taxes, these men were invested in Hartford’s success despite not being residents. The Bishops had incentives to revive the city economically since their own success depended on it. Nevertheless, tensions between the rich and poor did not disappear. As members of third party “People for Change” were elected to the city council, they created policies that were unfavorable to businesses and partly influenced the movement of headquarters outside of the city.[10]

Considering the Greater Hartford area’s hesitance with county government in the past, it is unlikely that official county offices will be created in the near future. However, this region can learn from mistakes in the past and continue to work towards more effective metropolitan governance. Rojas and Wray state that metropolitan governance can be accomplished without an explicit metropolitan government.[11] Even as the central city in the metropolitan region, Hartford is fixed in poverty and lacks a substantial tax base as a financial resource. Creating a county government, or a governing body that has the authority to collect tax revenue, will increase the tax base from which poorer cities such as Hartford can draw resources. One can argue that tax revenue from suburbs should not be used in an unrelated city. This issue already exists as seen in my experience researching the Metropolitan District Commission’s Clean Water Project last year. West Hartford residents were dissatisfied with the project as expressed in the Hartford Courant due to the redistribution of tax revenue. Opposition often occurs when tax dollars are used for regional projects, but unfortunately it is currently the main financial resource for governments.

Moreover, even though suburban towns often believe otherwise, centralizing many local services could actually prove more efficient. It is unnecessary, for instance, to have more than 104 (one hundred) 911 calling centers in the state.[12] Finding a way to connect already existing organizations to coordinate local services and pull from a more central pool of financial resources could allow Hartford residents to partake in public amenities it could not before.

It cannot be denied that Hartford and its suburbs are interdependent despite the absence of their formal political connection. 83 percent of jobs in the city are filled by suburban residents, and 65 percent of the city’s residents work in the suburbs.[13] People spend time in Hartford, and recognize that it has jobs and opportunities not necessarily available in the suburbs, while the same can be said vice versa. Though Hartford is to some extent an economic center, it is most certainly a political center as the state capital. Thus, the existence (development?) of a central and regional governing body can further establish Hartford as a center.

Since Hartford is the state capital, I fully expected it to be thriving upon applying to Trinity College. I assumed any state capital would have an exciting culture and a diverse metropolis of residents who feel connected to the central city. Once I visited Trinity, however, I found downtown Hartford to be quite the opposite of what I envisioned. On that Saturday, downtown felt deserted, while West Hartford’s Blue Back Square seemed to have more life. At that time, I thought West Hartford and Hartford were the same municipality, but I was also confused by the already visible dichotomy. It was not until I took my first urban studies course that I discovered the lack of any governmental connection between the two cities, other than their being in the state of Connecticut.  Hartford felt and still feels incomplete because of its seeming lack of relevance to surrounding towns.

In order for Hartford to be less impoverished and maximize its role as a central city, a regional government must play a larger role in establishing a larger tax base, providing efficient local services, and creating cohesion between cities in the metropolitan area. Organizations that strive to address regional issues must have the authority to utilize tax revenue and stand in between cities and the state in the hierarchy of government. In cases of privatization, governing entities must consider the needs of the majority of the people instead of profit maximization. Especially considering Hartford’s small size, a regional governing body could figuratively expand its borders and serve as an obvious connection between Hartford and surrounding cities (a good connection to argue). Many of the problems that are thought to plague Hartford—poverty, irrelevance, racial tension, monotony—will not be solved overnight, but a county government or a similar authority can be one of the first steps.


[1] Simmons, Louise. “Poverty, Inequality, Politics, and Social Activism in Hartford,” Pp. 85-109 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[2] Rojas, Jason and Lyle Wray. “Metropolitan Hartford: Regional Challenges and Responses.” Pp. 235-258 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[3] McKee, Clyde and Nick Bacon. “A Tragic Dialectic: Politics and the Transformation of Hartford.” Pp. 219-235 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Rojas and Wray, 2013.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Simmons, 2013.

[9] McKee and Bacon, 2013.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rojas and Wray, 2013.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The  Metro Hartford Progress Points Report 2014. Hartford: Metro Hartford Progress Points, 2014.

Black and Tan: The Minority Majority and the Abandonment of Hartford

Geoffrey Keane ‘16

 An Essay for From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

            Human capital is the lifeblood of any city and the ethnicities contained within are a natural part of the melting pot of American cities. However, this mixture of cultures, languages, and races can both ease and strain the city. The mix may lead to greater prosperity and vitality or conversely increase tensions and decline. Hartford is no exception to this rule and its rapidly changing racial and cultural demographics has been both a bane and a boon on the city. Historically, Hartford was established by Puritan English settlers from Massachusetts. These settlers formed the backbone of a culture that would dominate the city until the 1850s. While initially an agricultural and Hartford had its initial lift into greater prominence by expanding into the mercantile market, utilizing connections across the Atlantic with the British merchants and emerging markets produced by the slave trade in the Caribbean.[1] From this stepping stone, the 1830s saw Hartford expand as one of the advanced manufacturing cities on the East Coast. At the same time, Hartford began its emergence as an insurance magnet, utilizing the gained connectivity to expand business both locally and internationally.[2] Hartford was able to really achieve its manufacturing height in the late19th and the majority of the 20th century with specialization in high skill manufacturing and the basing of companies including Underwood Typewriter Company, Pratt & Whitney, and Colt within the city limits.[3] However, with globalization, and the movement of industry overseas to developing markets, as well as the abandonment of the city for the suburbs by the tax base in the late 20th century, Hartford slipped into an economic decline and became one of the poorest cities in the entire nation despite still boasting a financially powerful metro region.[4] Throughout this history, Hartford has experienced a number of different immigration tides vastly changing the cultural and racial makeup of the city and its inhabitants. First, the puritan influx at the foundation, then in the manufacturing age immigration came from Europe with skilled machinists coming to fill positions. Subsequently, there was a massive influx of Irish citizens. The introduction of the Irish community caused the first major immigration rift between the Protestant community and the Catholic newcomers and led to a long standing tension in the city. Finally, with additional European migration prevented by the global conflict of World War II, immigration predominately arrived from the southern United States and the Caribbean.[5] This movement added color and language to a dominantly Christian white monoculture, but the lack of integration of the two communities would lead to disparities in wealth and cultural tension. The tensions from the immigration of minorities combined with a large suburban draw caused a huge landscape change within Hartford and trapped the minority residents in a city with an uncertain fate.

As the tax base and the industry moved out of the city, the minorities who had immigrated at the start of the decline were forced to remain within the city borders. Discriminatory housing practices, scare tactics, redlining districts and subsidized housing availability curtailed the minorities to designated sections of the city and left the middle and upper class, usually white, to have the pick of the litter in suburb communities.[6] This racial selection segregated the minorities from the greater services and schooling provided by income rich suburban families who often worked in and took the tax income out of the downtown.[7] In addition, with the services and shopping moving out of the city, the only available employment also moved to a greater distance away making minority worker spend more of their already low income on private transportation or underdeveloped public transportation out to the suburbs. The combination of these factors left the collapsing Hartford without a strong tax base to provide services to the resident or means of repair. For the minority community this meant that their problems were exacerbated, there was little chance to invest money in social mobility and that government provisions for basic necessities and education were too little and too poor quality to turn around the minority’s fortunes.

Personally, I can attest to the predominately minority community that is currently in Hartford. During freshman year, I participated in a street observation on a block near the north side of Trinity’s campus. This experience, both the guided and unguided portions gave me my first inkling of the history that was stored within the city’s neighborhoods. While much of the architecture was classic New England, the faces and the signs that decorated the outsides and the first floor shops were primarily in Spanish and dual lingual. Perhaps the most concrete contrast was the cemetery. While the cemetery was marked as a classic Jewish cemetery, the buildings packed around it did not sport a single white face. Instead, like on the other streets, Spanish was the primary language and the church on the corner had clearly tailored its services to the Hispanic community. This neighborhood was a reminder of the fluidity in migration, a neighborhood that was once a Jewish stronghold had long since been abandoned and left for the new immigrants coming in from the Caribbean. Additionally, subsequent observations in the outer suburbs of Hartford allowed access to the opposite demographic. The predominantly white suburb community surrounding the minority majority city center provided first hand evidence that minorities seemed to be trapped within the center city (the center city itself, not inner ring suburbs). Overall, this observation showed the sharp contrast that has occurred within Hartford due to both immigration of a predominately minority crowd and exodus of the previous residents.

The minority majority that is present in Hartford is also accounted for by the refugee influx into the city. Like the other minorities, the refugees are limited by economic fortune and subsidized housing that is restricted predominately inside the city. However, while there is a somewhat established community of Hispanic and black groups, many refugees that may have similar racial identities do not mesh particularly well culturally with the minorities that have been living in Hartford for multiple generations and have acclimated to or adapted to the “American” culture. Additionally, there is some problem of employment that is present. Most of the refugees are required to work in low skill service industry jobs regardless of their abundance or lack of training that they were exposed to in their home country.[8] This leaves many in unfamiliar situation and without the opportunity to experience culture or prospects beyond that of the Hispanic and black community that they work within. The influx of these refugees further fragments already strained communities and just adds unstable and unsustainable population to what may be a sinking ship.

A major problem that has occurred within the minority community is placelessness. While there have been some attempts by the government to reenergize and form cohesive neighborhoods, even attempted revitalization projects, like the construction of Rentschler field in Hartford metro region (in East Hartford though), proved only to further alienate the native community from the land that they lived on. Termed as Podunkification, the destruction of one unrecognized place for the replacement with something just as meaningless and insignificant, the attempted revitalization of Hartford metro region (be careful about mixing Hartford and East Hartford) clashed with what little community that the minorities were able to establish and left some enclaves geographically fractured by inaccessible “public” works.[9] The feeling of a place would allow for the investment into the neighborhood and the community, something the minority residents may not feel is worthwhile if they do not feel welcome in their own homes.

Despite what may appear to be a bleak forecast for Hartford there is a possible path forward for the minority majority within the city. Even with abandonment and reduced investment, communities can develop and thrive with the development of an identity, or a place as mentioned prior. While their cultures of the many minority citizens may not mesh with the cultural preferences of the white majority of the state and region, they can form a dynamic space to foster local and cultural specific businesses. As seen in Lawrence, a minority group can foster an environment that allows for a revitalization in economy and culture.[10] However, refugees must either be provided with the social and economic support to integrate into the existing community or be given the opportunity and concentration to create a place and culture that they can call their own. While this plan is arguably not a long term solutions due to the potential for enclave exploitation and the limited economic mobility, the establishment of prominent racial or cultural enclaves within the neighborhoods of Hartford would provide a foundation that focuses on education and local business viability stepping stones for the overall improvement of both Hartford as a city and minorities as a community.


[1] Walsh, Andrew. “Hartford: A Global History.” Pp. 21-45 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Metro Hartford Progress Points Report 2014. Hartford: Metro Hartford Progress Points, 2014.

[5] Walsh, 2013.

[6] Dougherty, Jack. “Investigating Spatial Inequality with the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project.” Pp. 110-126 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bauer, Janet. “A Metro Immigrant Gateway: Refugees in the Hartford Borderlands.” Pp. 145-168 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[9] Bacon, Nick. “Podunk after Pratt: Place and Placelessness in East Hartford, Connecticut.” Pp. 46-64 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[10] Barber, Llana. “”If We Would … Leave the City This Would Be a Ghost Town”: Urban Crisis and Latino Migration in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000.” Pp. 65-82 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

Start from the Bottom: Let the Youth Dig Hartford Out

Margaret Brown ‘17

An Essay for From Hartford to World Cities (URST 201)

Fall 2014

A constant stream of steamy haze hangs over the cracked Madison Street blacktop pavement like a suffocating blanket, as the blistering sun basking overhead beats ruthlessly on the earth below in the year’s final assault of scorching summer weather. As my eyes scour the lifeless street anticipating the sight of children carelessly riding their bikes with the current of the wind at their backs, I begin to discern the signs of desolation that have become all too common in describing the current landscape of urban (just) Hartford today. Rows of abandon buildings line either side of the road, their sorry paint jobs flaking off with the wave of the late afternoon wind, and their foundations crumbling despondently to the stagnant earth below. Collapsed porches adorn the front of the lonely buildings, and the overgrowth of deserted shrubbery and vegetation swallow the entrance. Despite the light of the afternoon sun, Madison Street is a ghost town, one of the many Podunk-like neighborhoods to have engulfed the city of Hartford following the period of deindustrialization that strangulated the area into its current state of economic challenge. Currently suffocated by the restrictions of extreme poverty, urban Hartford and its Podunk neighborhoods have become dwelling grounds for those with nowhere else to go, casting an image of a hopeless city with empty pockets. But, there is hope in reversing the demise of Podunk Hartford – a hope that lies in the innocent promise of the city’s youth population and future generation of leaders.

In what Andrew Walsh would discern as the third stage of Harford’s five-stage global history (in Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon ’10 edited book, Confronting Urban Legacy), or the Golden Period, in the history of Hartford, “industrialization brought an uneven sort of prosperity to the region”, which ultimately designated the urban center for its eventual decline.[1] As industry in Hartford began to flourish from 1830 to 1890, an extreme wealth disparity gap began to emerge amongst residents, with manufacturing producing enormous profits for skilled workers that were not levied onto the poor working class. This began the process of class segregation in the region, which often naturally followed racial and immigrant profiles, and began to separate the rich and the poor into distinguishing enclave communities within the city based on their economic position in society.[2]

This trend continued into the World War II era, as manufacturing giant Pratt & Whitney brought considerable economic benefits to Hartford’s urban center that were distributed unequally amongst the social classes. Financial gains elongated due to wartime production profits interested jobseekers from the South in the Great Migration, attracting members of the working class to a region unable to offer a balanced supply and demand in the employment sector and already teetering on the verge of severe economic inequality. Eventually, industrial giants such as Pratt & Whitney executed a transition of their manufacturing plants from urban to suburban locations in an expansion effort, moving the job opportunities of the working class outside of the city to an area that they could not afford to live in themselves. Essentially, this abandoned the poor working class inside the limits of the city without reliable work, adding to the woes of their pessimistic financial situations. With this, the prosperity of Walsh’s fourth stage of development ceased, and “white flight” emptied the city of nearly all of its wealthy and middle class residents unwilling to live amongst the increasing poverty submerging the city, as families migrated to the nearby affluent suburbs in search of homes boasting larger living environments, green space, and neighbors whose racial and economic situation mirrored their own.[3]

This transfer of industry outside of the city, known as deindustrialization, was further stimulated by the “the construction of a new and expansive interstate highway network that linked Hartford to bedroom suburbs,” which allowed for white-collar workers to live independent of the city, while continuing to rake in the benefits of the downtown financial industry and business. This further worsedn the regression of the city’s wealth, and the formation of the highway system led Hartford into its fifth, and current, stage of development, leaving behind only immigrants and the poor to reside within urban limits. In this current stage, a limited amount of solutions has been crafted to respond to the problems left in the wake of deindustrialization, such as the construction of Connecticut Convention Center and Connecticut Science Center. In the meantime, Hartford has become increasingly racially and economically diverse. With the absence of an upper and middle class, Hartford became the city of poverty and deficiency that it is documented as today, as “the region became a place of slow, sometimes negligible, growth in economy and population.”[4]

The poverty left in the wake of deindustrialization and massive “white flight” to the surrounding suburban areas has left many neighborhoods within the limits of Hartford’s urban region to transition from flourishing cultural enclaves to destitute areas struggling to stay afloat. In what Nick Bacon would characterize as a Podunk, especially in East Hartford but really across the region as a whole, numerous Hartford neighborhoods including areas such as Madison Street, have become empty and unrecognizable due to economic decline, and revival efforts have done little to impede the process of regression due to extreme poverty. In the process of “podunkification”, “jobs are lost, property values plummet, and communities disappear.”[5] This causes inhabitants of the area to become disconnected to the influence of the urban area on their lives, drawing people emotionally away from the neighborhood, while physically they must remain behind due to economic barriers. The result produces communities without unity or concern for one another, and fosters an environment where people choose to live simply due to the constraints of their financial situation. In the Podunk’s of Hartford, no true community exists, as it is merely an area of poverty that people feel trapped within, instead of positively connected to.[6] People have lost the community identity and emotional attachment in the face of overwhelming poverty.

Podunk neighborhoods adorn many sections of modern Hartford, as the remnants of deindustrialization have left city residents predominantly unable to invest the necessary capital to transform their communities back into the cultural enclaves that they embodied prior to their monetary demise. They are not difficult to spot with the naked eye, as Podunk neighborhoods often display outward characteristics associated with neighborhood tipping such as poor property maintenance, numerous abandoned buildings, untrimmed vegetation, cars parked on the lawn, loud noise, and countless for rent or sale signs in a small geographic area.[7] Podunk neighborhoods also routinely possess invisible characteristics as well that include rapid turnover of tenants, rodent infestation, absentee ownership, and redlining by banks and insurance companies.[8] The combination of these factors causes the neighborhood to become an undesirable place to live, and forces those bound to the area to withdraw from it emotionally, further prompting its ultimate demise.

The problem with the Podunk neighborhoods within the Hartford region is that they are currently too economically poor and unsustainable to reverse their current fate of despair in the near future. As Louise Simmons remarks, “the persistence of poverty in Hartford is arguably the most deeply rooted social issue that has confronted city leaders and residents for decades, as the population is exceedingly poor.”[9] With nearly a third of the total population living below the federal poverty line, and nearly half of the city’s children falling below this line as well, the residents of Hartford’s Podunk simply do not possess the economic capability to reverse the disunity and despair of the city. And outside donation and investment in the social service sector will not erase Hartford’s urban Podunk neighborhoods either, for that only addresses the issue of poverty at the surface. As poverty researcher Mark Rank asserts, “poverty is a result of structural failings: lack of opportunities to escape poverty and a society that has come to rely on low-wage work.”[10] Therefore, the only way for Hartford to address the current landscape of its Podunk urban areas is to tackle the root of poverty at a structural level, by empowering the youth of the city to transform their perception of their environment, and to instill hope back into a community that has for too long been forlorn.

While empowering the youth of Hartford to connect directly to the region that constitutes their home is not the fastest way to bring the Podunk neighborhoods of the city back to life, it is the only way that will address the cause of Podunkification at the root. By fostering an environment in which children believe in their ability to succeed, they will connect emotionally to the neighborhood that has raised them, and begin to see the area as an irreplaceable symbol of home. Therefore, Hartford must focus its investments on providing quality education and resources to the city’s children, so that they may flourish into the greatest generation of future urban region leaders as possible. As children begin to succeed, they will bring the sentiments of belief, hope, and perseverance into the Podunk neighborhoods where they grew up, which will gradually allow Hartford to once again locate the sentiments of place and connection that it lost through deindustrialization so many years ago.[11]

It is here that the social service sector can play a critical role in the reversal of Hartford’s Podunk neighborhoods. While simply investing money into new housing projects will not solve community problems at the root, investing money into the urban youth population will. This is something that I have seen firsthand through my internship experience this semester at Our Piece of the Pie, a Hartford non-profit that runs social service programs for at-risk youth in the city. Here, I have learned that putting time and effort, compassion and care into the city’s youth will pay far greater gains in the long run than immediate financial donation will. By investing hope and prospect into the children of Hartford, the city can construct the leaders that it will ultimately need to climb out of its current economic hole.

I have worked with one youth this particular semester who has achieved a 3.97 grade-point-average in the classroom since her time as a youth member of Our Piece of the Pie, and has achieved an impressive extracurricular sheet that has put her in a position where she will be able to attend college, enabling her to effectively escape the Podunk neighborhood where she was raised. However, because of the assistance of Our Piece of the Pie, she realizes her duty to reinvest her skills and attitude into her community, and has promised that one day she will return to her Podunk Hartford community in an effort to establish fundamental and structural change. As she has told me herself, “I want to help my sister out, I want to help my mother out, and I want to help all of the people around me who helped me get to this point…my success is in part their success as well.”

This exact cycle of development and return is the exact cycle that the city of Hartford needs to strive for with each and every member of its youth population if it is ever going to succeed in one day climbing out of the Podunk enclave that it has become in the wake of deindustrialization. It will not happen over the course of a year, but gradually Hartford can put their Podunk neighborhoods back on the map through their youth, as revived cultural enclaves flourishing with culture and prosperity that will attract prospective residents for many generations to come.


[1] Walsh, Andrew. “Hartford: A Global History.” Pp. 21-45 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bacon, Nick. “Podunk after Pratt: Place and Placelessness in East Hartford, Connecticut.” Pp. 46-64 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lash, Alta. “Signs of Neighborhood Tipping.” In-class handout material. Fall 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Simmons, Louise. “Poverty, Inequality, Politics, and Social Activism in Hartford.” Pp. 85-109 in Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bacon, 2013.