netcurmudgeon (netcurmudgeon) wrote,

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My heavy thinking for the day...

In response to IBARW I had planned on writing something about race and Hartford. I say planned, because as hard as I thought about it I could not find anything conclusive to say. You would think that, having lived twelve miles from Hartford my entire life, and now having worked in the Hartford Schools / city government for seven years, I would have some insights. All I have to show for my time is a collection of disconnected observations. Which, in a way, is a fine metaphor for the intractability of Hartford's problems.

Hartford. Capital city of the wealthiest state in the nation. Second-poorest city in the land. Eighteen-point-six square miles. One hundred twelve thousand souls, just under twenty-four thousand of them school children. Place where some eighty-five thousand suburbanites commute to every day to work. Place where many suburbanites fear to go after dark. It is both the Insurance Capital of the World and an American Calcutta.

Observation number one. Once the factories closed (Colt Firearms, Royal Typewriter, etc) the bottom fell out of the economy for Hartford's blue collar families. Despite one civic renewal plan after another the bottom remains out and swinging, like a gallows trap door that has been sprung.

Observation number two. Connecticut's population has been essentially flat for the past two decades. Yet, the outer-ring suburbs are seeing a huge housing boom. Where are all these people coming from? The demographics show that they are vacating the inner-ring suburbs. Hartford's population is in decline, along with the other major (and also poor) cities in the state. The demographics show that the blacks and Hispanics who can get out of Hartford are getting out. They are moving into the inner-ring 'burbs, and the whites are engaging in a second white flight.

Why these white suburbanites are subjecting themselves to longer commutes, rattle snakes and deer ticks is anyone's guess, but I have my ideas. Maybe East Hartford, Wethersfield and Manchester are getting a little too 'brown'. Maybe the influx of lower middle class blacks and Hispanics is making them jittery about the quality of the schools. Whether they are thinking about their new neighbor's skin color or not, they are voting with their feet.

Observation number three. Under the terms of the Sheff vs. O'Neil (then Governor) anti-segregation court case, the State is to fund eight new magnet schools in Hartford to help end the racial isolation of city kids. The schools are meeting their targets for drawing in out-of-town kids, but they're the wrong color. The suburban kids that are willing to come to a magnet school in Hartford are, by and large black and Hispanic kids from families that moved out of Hartford not all that long ago.

Observation number four. Credit for this one goes to matociquala for pointing it out to me. Unlike New York or Boston, Hartford did not over the years subsume it's inner-ring 'burbs. Wethersfield, Bloomfield, Windsor, East Hartford, and West Hartford are still fiercely independent towns. Instead of a true "greater Hartford" we have a sick economic center surrounded by increasingly well-off suburbs as you move out and away. This means that any attempt to implement regional solutions to problems such as Hartford school childrens' racial isolation is met with dogged resistance in the name of town sovereignty and home rule.

And you know what, Hartford's problems have virtually nothing to do with the racial and ethic composition of the city. As Bill Clinton's team divined in 1992, it's the economy stupid. It has been the economy, stupid, since the factories first moved South and then off shore. And it will stay the economy, stupid, until there are decent jobs for people with a high school diploma or a GED. And by decent I mean jobs that someone can feed a family with, rent a decent place, have medical coverage, and maybe even own a car. That kind of decent. I don't mean handing me my morning doughnut at Dunky D's.

We can pour all the money we want into more cops, anti-gang task forces, anti-gun task forces, community policing, gun courts, and neighborhood courts, and none of it will make Hartford any safer as long as it's easier for enough people to put food on the table by doing crime than it is to get a job.

The fact that the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in Connecticut are black and Hispanic only makes it easier for white suburbanites to mentally wall-off Hartford as this unsafe place they don't go to (except by daylight on the Interstates to get to work). Easier to not think earnestly about how to give a hand up to these poor people. Easier to crack jokes about last one out of Hartford turn out the lights.

OK, the observations are more connected than I thought. But there is no practical solution burning in my mind. It's easy to say it's the economy stupid, and even easier to chant jobs, jobs, jobs like a mantra, but a lot harder to think about how to attract businesses to generate those jobs. Fooey.

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