In a forum designed to explore what Hartford can do to make itself a “drawing card” for young adults, Jamil Ragland ’13, offered a warts-and-all assessment of the city where he’s lived all of his life and where he graduated from college.
“This is my home, where my friends and family are,” said Ragland, an American Studies major who now works in the registrar’s office at Trinity. “I don’t want to give those things up. I want to make this place as good as it can be.”
Ragland was one of three 20-somethings to participate in a well attended Key Issues Forum Tuesday evening at the Old State House sponsored by The Hartford Courant/FOX CT
and the Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE).
In addition to Ragland, a North End resident, the other panelists were T.J. Clynch, founder of Civic Mind, a design firm specializing in community development, and president of Business for Downtown Hartford, and Erin Concepcion, who lives in the West End and is active in fundraising and community events that help to develop and preserve Hartford communities and surrounding areas. The forum was moderated by Courant columnist and WNPR talk show host Colin McEnroe.
The purpose of the event was to explore ways to turn Hartford into a “24-hour place, whether for going out on the town, shopping for dinner, staying in shape or growing a business.” The consensus is that attracting and sustaining a vibrant, educated and diverse young population is vital to the city.
And while all three panelists, as well as McEnroe, agreed that Hartford has come a long way in the past few years – such as building more downtown housing and enlivening the arts and culture scene -- progress needs to be made in tearing down racial barriers, combatting crime, integrating the schools and increasing public transit.
Ragland said he believes the principal problem in the capital city continues to be racial isolation, as evidenced by a school system that has virtually no white children. “It’s insane that Hartford is divided along racial lines,” said Ragland. “People come into downtown, do their business and go home.” He lamented the fact that few people, especially suburbanites, venture into other city neighborhoods, particularly the North and South Ends.
Clynch suggested that Hartford’s major problem stems from a lack of ownership, figuratively speaking. “No one owns Hartford and that may be a byproduct of racial segregation,” he said.
Concepcion said she thinks the biggest problem is the negativity about Hartford and the fact that “people aren’t willing to open their minds.”
All three panelists agreed that the perception of Hartford as a crime-ridden city is overblown, although they acknowledged that property crime is real and ongoing. Ragland said he feels “safe and secure” when walking on city streets. He noted that in every city there is crime and Hartford is no different. He was particularly critical of suburban parents who refuse to allow their children to visit the city. “Hartford is not Mogadishu,” he said to laughter.
Clynch and Concepcion shared similar opinions. Clynch noted that if people leave their laptops in full view in their cars, the computers are likely going to be stolen. Concepcion, who is originally from Enfield, said there are “crimes of opportunity” in the West End, such as stealing unattended bicycles, but that she doesn’t “feel unsafe because it’s Hartford.”
Ragland said he’s disappointed that the University of Connecticut decided to relocate its West Hartford campus to the Front Street area rather than to another part of the city where the students could help revitalize the neighborhood. “We need to get past the idea that Hartford is only downtown.” He took umbrage at the comment by UConn President Susan Herbst that other sections of Hartford are “the frontier.”
Clynch and Concepcion said expensive parking lots are another problem. Clynch noted that there is an unwillingness of people to ride the bus. The lack of free and accessible parking, he said, “shouldn’t be used as the bane of Hartford’s existence.” Concepcion said she’s noticed that people are impatient and don’t want to walk more than a block.
McEnroe asked the three young adults what can be done to persuade more of them to stay in Hartford. Ragland called the apartment rents “outrageous,” and said housing needs to be more affordable. Clynch said Hartford has to concentrate on building an infrastructure, such as bicycle lanes to get people out of their cars. Concepcion agreed that it’s important to have affordable housing and wondered why there aren’t fewer apartments and more condominiums so that people could invest in Hartford. She also spoke of quality-of-life issues, such as the need for a downtown grocery store.
To read an Opinion piece that Ragland wrote in the Oct. 27 Courant, please go to: http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-ragland-hartford-must-connect-its-cultural-p-20131025,0,4188177.story.