Chris Powell

Tell the Cities to ‘Think Big’? They Did and Only Got Poorer

What do you do when state government policy doesn’t work? In Connecticut the answer is simple: You do more of it.

So disaster may be the most likely outcome of a new state program that aims to reserve $175 million per year in bonding for improvement projects in 34 of Connecticut’s poor and distressed municipalities.

A spokesman for Governor Lamont hopes the program achieves “generational” change, and a news report about the program says the distressed municipalities are being encouraged to “think big.”

But thinking big is what Connecticut’s three biggest, poorest, and most distressed cities have been doing for many years, only to become poorer and more distressed.

Since the 1960s in the name of revitalization Hartford has relocated its downtown three times at enormous cost: first to Constitution Plaza, then to the Hartford Civic Center, and then to Adriaen’s Landing. The first project is now a sleepy office plaza. The second project is largely empty and needs expensive renovation. The third project is stumbling and has yet to accomplish anything. While the city also has added a minor-league baseball stadium and an outdoor concert arena in its era of revitalization, living standards in Hartford have declined and poverty has grown more concentrated.

New Haven opened its Coliseum downtown in 1972 and then, acknowledging its failure to revitalize the city, tore it down in 2007. The Connecticut Tennis Center was opened in New Haven in 1991 but the idea of revitalization via tennis tournaments was another failure. This year the tennis center was converted into a concert venue as if New Haven hadn’t already been full of concerts for many years. New Haven now isn’t just poorer and more dysfunctional; it has become the murder and drug abuse capital of Connecticut.

Bridgeport opened a downtown minor-league baseball stadium in 1998. It was beautiful but couldn’t cover its costs and so was closed in 2017. This year the stadium also was converted to a concert arena. Bridgeport is no better off for it — still impoverished, distressed, and full of crime despite its great location on Long Island Sound on the railroad line to New York and the ferry route to Long Island.

So instead of thinking big and glamorous, it might be better for the poor and distressed municipalities to think ordinary and prosaic.

According to the Hartford Courant, the northern part of Hartford has chronic sewer and storm water drainage problems that damage residential and business properties and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix. So why not start to fix them?

The three most distressed cities have schools without air conditioning and modern ventilation whose students are easily distracted. They also have bad streets and abandoned buildings.

But if the cities really want to think big, they might, along with state government, undertake a study to discover why, despite so much expense incurred over so many years in the name of revitalization, they remain poor and distressed, and especially why so many of their residents are still poor.

Can it really be a lack of downtown relocations, stadiums, and concert arenas? Is the problem really something bonding money can fix?

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HEIL HYPOCRISY!: A few weeks ago state Rep. Anne Dauphinais, R-Killingly, likened Governor Lamont to Hitler on account of the governor’s exercising emergency powers granted to him by the General Assembly, just as Hitler, soon after coming to power, exercised emergency powers granted to him by the Reichstag.

Since people could tell the difference between how those powers were exercised in Connecticut and Germany, Dauphinais was roundly denounced for her hyperbole, and leaders of both political parties in the General Assembly declared that people in politics should avoid analogies to Nazism.

But just a few days before the recent municipal elections, the Democratic Party organizations in Manchester and South Windsor broadcast cable television commercials likening Republicans to Nazis. While local Republicans were peeved by this hyperbole, there was no denunciation at the state level. For in Connecticut, where the demagogic far left runs almost everything, what is sauce for the Republican goose is not sauce for the Democratic gander.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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