Capitol Connection: Stitching Together a Community

September 11, 2014

The best way to grow a community is to connect communities.

That’s the concept that has shaped Hartford’s vibrant urban design plan – the iQuilt plan.

Hartford’s design strategy takes a few lessons from what has worked to grow suburban neighborhoods and applies these ideas in urban spaces. The program “stitches” together neighborhoods and cultural centers with pedestrian walkways, green spaces and plazas – all in an effort to make our capital city a bigger and better cultural and economic hub for Connecticut.

In suburban communities, people unite in shared public spaces like parks, trails, and shopping plazas. While we may see our neighbors driving around, we don’t connect with people from the driver’s seat. We need to walk around to meet, interact and establish a community with our neighbors. This concept applies to city life too.

iQuilt connects key destinations, including museums, parks, public art, modern architecture and historic landmarks, through walkways and bikeways – making these areas more accessible. Right now, private investments along with state and federal grants have helped the project grow. But ultimately, the goal is to rely on downtown property owners along the pathways to remake their own spaces to fit the iQuilt vision, and find ways to fund their own improvements. The program also emphasizes the importance of public-private partnerships that can maintain spaces in the long-term.

To me, this program makes a whole lot of sense; it promotes sustainable growth, enhances community development, and encourages families across our state to check out the many treasures in our capital city. However, the key to success is making sure all these projects can eventually stand on their own, without state support. Yes, a joint effort is needed to get the program off the ground. But over time, the state has to be able to step away and allow the program to thrive independently. We need to get more businesses involved like Phoenix, the downtown company that has already completed updating their plaza as the first private property piece of Hartford’s iQuilt Plan. Phoenix will maintain this green space as a positive new pedestrian friendly area, enhancing a corner of the city for everyone.

The iQuilt program idea began to take shape in 2008. Over the past few years, many public and private partners and supporters have worked together to enhance and increase safe pedestrian walkways and promote many destination locations throughout the city. Events like Winterfest and Envisionfest have also developed as new ways for people to explore and get to know Hartford for the beautiful and diverse place it truly is. These event teams work to bring unique activities to the city during special events like the Connecticut Cycling Festival coming to downtown Hartford September 20-21. At the Cycling Festival, EnvisionFest plans to hold activities in Bushnell Park and along the Greenwalk during to encourage bicyclists to continue exploring the city, on and off their bikes.

When you look around our state right now, you can tell that our economy is hurting, and that includes the economy of our cities. Programs like iQuilt, which create sustainable value and foster pride in one’s own neighborhood, are essential to attracting people to the area, energizing neighborhoods, bringing in business, and building a stronger economy. Hartford has a compact downtown, and it’s time to make every inch of it walkable and enjoyable.