I’m almost embarrassed for the host of the Capitol Watch podcast from the Hartford Courant. I mean, I wish Springfield and Masslive had anything even remotely similar with a focus on the city and urban issues. It is still the case that, even with the multi-million dollar headquarters and broadcasting center of New England Public Radio being located on Main Street in the heart of downtown Springfield, I haven’t heard of a single program devoted to the city in general, or the downtown in particular (Call me!). We will muddle on with “Idiots Discuss the News”, mornings on Rock 102.
Getting back to Capitol Watch; I listened for the first time yesterday. The presentation had that “This American Life” ennui with much higher production value than anything I’ve ever done at KTKK, WHYN, or on my own short-lived RationalUrbanism podcast. There was one teensy weensy little problem: the premise of this episode was based on a (common) misunderstanding regarding ranking data.
The data being investigated related to the fact that the “Hartford Metropolitan Region” ranks #8 in the nation for % of Millennials with college degrees, and some follow up rankings involving measurements like job opportunities and salaries also being assessed by METRO AREA in which Hartford scored well. The question put to random passers by at a community market was clearly asking if Hartford, as in The City of Hartford full stop, “…is really one of the best places for Millennials to settle down?” What ensued was a ridiculous Hartford slam fest. Kudos I guess to the producers for not editing out all of the negativity, although that is almost all there was.
As an aside, I’ve seen this same confusion in local Springfield media with rankings; Springfield was ranked number one for college campus quality of life. The survey included Smith, Amherst, Mt Holyoke; but it was interpreted as referring to Springfield College, A.I.C., and WNEU: The response was skeptical. I’ve written about it before.
Getting back to the podcast: The first respondent complained, again, assuming the question was about Hartford proper, that you could get more house for the money in the suburbs(!?): I’m not an expert on Hartford home prices but that seems unlikely to be true, although it seemed that what he was really trying to say is that suburban homes come with more land and are therefore, by default, superior. That the contrast which was being made was, according to the surveys in question, not germane because both Hartford and suburban Hartford are part of metro Hartford, never came up.
The second respondent, while admitting to “not having been a Millennial for a while”(sic) responded that many places have much more to offer than Hartford, taxes are too high in Connecticut, and Millennials would be better off going just about anywhere else. That response seemed to lump the city and its surrounding communities into one whole, and so may have actually been on point.
Respondent number three was a Hartford native and complained that, knowing “what’s really going on” he opined that “it is completely false” that Hartford is a good place for Millennials to settle down. The reasons: crime, poverty, gentrification, segregation: “Charging Manhattan and SoHo prices but ya’ll don’t have Manhattan and SoHo attractions.” He was just “bein’ real”. As he went on he seemed to make a different point. While, perhaps, accepting the idea that upwardly mobile Millennials might find Hartford, “greater” or “proper”, a reasonable place to live, for the not so well off Millennials who already lived there the arrival of the gentrifiers wouldn’t be helpful.
After going 0 for 3 with his “man on the street” interviews the host went “meta” and played some archival interviews which were perhaps more directly related to the question, which were then fiollowed by yet another conversation at the community market which was also both more on point and actually positive in its take. A final interview brought the tally of man on the street interviewees to 2 in favor, 3 against the idea of Hartford being a good place for Millennials to settle down with, honestly, perhaps something one might be able to piece together as “a meaningful idea” on the topic in and among the agglomeration of words.
I am going to presume quite a bit and reinterpret all 5 of the extemporaneous responses:
#1: Yes, suburban Hartford is awesome ’cause lawns. Cities are icky.
#2: Other places have lower taxes and better “culture”…museums, symphony orchestras, probably not his idea of “culture” I’m guessing though.
#3: Being Black and poor in Hartford isn’t any fun (unlike other places?). Rich White folks moving in makes it more expensive. Doesn’t care about amenities, and there aren’t enough of them.
#4: Smaller metros (sic) give people opportunities to be big fish in small ponds. Hartford has a lot going for it. It’s a good place to make a difference.
#5: Buy low, sell high. Greater Hartford is low, so buy, buy, buy!
Overall I understand the temptation to ask “Everyman” what he thinks, and a convincing argument can be made that most people make even enormous decisions in life without putting together a single coherent or more internally cohesive idea than any of the ideas expressed by these interviewees. For many people life works like this:
My brain sees: “Then a crisis happens” in all these formulae where others see miracles!
And yet I still want to disentangle the rest of the math.
Is the City of Hartford one of the best places for Millennials to settle down? I think it likely is, at the very least, better than average. Hartford gets more negative press than Springfield which means its real estate market is likely depressed (Everyman #5), that not only gives one a good chance of buying low, but the generally negative attitudes projected onto Hartford limits the pool of competition for good jobs. There are walkable neighborhoods, some healthy local agricultural concerns, both insurance and state government to provide stability, and improving regional public transit. The regional water system is robust. It is a hub of high culture. Unlike a Springfield, or Rochester, or Scranton, or Youngstown, it sits at the political center of a state which is unlikely to lose sight of its significance. Ask most people in Boston about Springfield and their thoughts turn to Abe Lincoln I’m sure!(Yes, wrong Springfield. Exactly.)
That said, I don’t think Hartford is as well prepared to exceed expectations as my hometown for precisely that final reason: too often Connecticut’s capital has been the subject of well meaning experiments which have eviscerated its neighborhoods and desiccated its downtown and these have served to leave it only more impoverished, segregated, and isolated. Springfield’s school system has been much healthier and more stable, the crime rate much lower, its White flight,not nearly as thorough, its industrial base both broader and deeper, its proximity to significant agriculture even greater, its share of owner occupied housing much higher, its park and library systems much larger.
If Hartford were to become a breakout superstar as cities go it would only be good news for Springfield. Neither of these ersatz Twin Cities have done the other any favors in the way a Worcester has been able to use Boston’s rise to re-energize itself, but we are stuck with each other, or at least near each other, mostly doing a good job of pretending the other doesn’t exist.
If you listened to the entire podcast you heard them discussing tourist slogans for the city and the state. hARTford or The H(arts)ford are the way to go: The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Stage, Mark Twain, and all the rest. The Simpsons used up our best idea already:
What puts the spring in Springfield?
Come find out!