Turn down the outdoor lights, Connecticut. We've wiped out the night sky.
Nationwide, there has been a growing movement to curb light pollution. Inthe past 30 years, there has been an absurd proliferation in the amount oflight slathered about at night. We have become inured to the perniciouscombined effect. We've forgotten how beautiful nighttime can be when lightingis proper.
Even the Mark Twain House now looks like a Taco Bell because of the harsh,glaring spotlights hitting it.
My hero in the field is Bob Crelin of Branford, a member of the New EnglandLight Pollution Advisory Group. In a low-key way, he makes the case againstexcessive lighting before government bodies and business groups. His message:Lower the wattage. Shield all bulbs. Energy costs can be cut by as much ashalf. Such changes improve visibility, make places safer.
Linda Case of Wethersfield wrote ``Bring Back Dark Skies'' for Commentaryin April 2001.
The state should take action to make new buildings easier on theenvironment -- more sustainable.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that buildings use about a third ofthe energy consumed in this country. Many states now promote the design andconstruction of buildings that use less energy, have better indoor airquality, use recycled materials and have less of an impact on naturalresources and finite energy reserves. States such as New York not only have``green'' guidelines for government buildings, but also offer tax incentivesand rebates for private developers to build green. Connecticut has no officialgreen building policy.
Connecticut should take steps -- by building smarter -- to lighten itsenergy load.
Michael J. Crosbie of Essex is an architect and author of several books,including ``Cesar Pelli: Recent Themes'' (Birkhauser, 2000).
A Leader For The Atheneum
The highest priority for Hartford this year is the Wadsworth AtheneumMuseum of Art. The museum's national renown enhances Hartford's place inAmerican culture. It has been a vital part of the fabric of the city fornearly half of Hartford's 367-year civic life. The Atheneum's well-being isHartford's well-being.
This is a critical time for the institution. It faces a Herculean task inits gigantic renovation project. Its trustees are searching for a new directorto lead the museum into the new century, guide the renovation and perhapsredirect its resources to achieve a less architecturally ambitious goal. Thetrustees have to select wisely.
The Atheneum is a metaphor for Hartford's cultural vitality. A lot isriding on the trustees' choice and on the new director getting the renovationright.
Jared I. Edwards is an architect in Hartford and former board member of theAtheneum and several other arts organizations.
Few proposals for Greater Hartford would cost as little but have as greatan impact as a downtown circulator. A clean, safe and frequent shuttle busservice could be the key to the success of Adriaen's Landing and the heart ofa metropolitan public transit system. Yet its future is in doubt.
The state has bonded hundreds of millions of dollars for Adriaen'sLanding. When this convention center and entertainment and retail districtopens its doors to tourists and conventioneers in 2005, a people-mover has tobe in place to ferry visitors in and out, as Boston's MBTA does for QuincyMarket.
But a $2 billion state budget shortfall and a federal guns-and-no-butterpolicy stand in the way, even though the circulator, at $10 million, wouldcost a tiny fraction of the money poured into Hartford's riverfront. Thestaggering gridlock that would result from cramming thousands of cars intodowntown parking garages could make first-time visitors vow never to return.
Planners forecast a Springfield-to-New Haven transit line, stopping atHartford's Union Station. This and the forthcoming New Britain busway could betwo spokes in a regional transit system, linking to a circulator hub. But willcommuters trade in their cars if they have to walk a half-mile or more fromUnion Station to work? Happily, some energetic downtown businesses, withsupport from city hall, are planning creatively to cover the circulator's$775,000 annual operating expenses. Stay tuned.
Stephen B. Goddard is a Hartford attorney and author. His most recent book,``Race to the Sky: The Wright Brothers Vs. The United States Government'' willbe published in May by McFarland & Co. of North Carolina.
These Old Houses
A top priority is creating greater market value for older houses.Preservationists must stop screaming ``Heritage!'' every time a historicbuilding is threatened and recognize that they've got to create a market forthe rehabilitation of historic buildings.
Because land has become so valuable in Connecticut, older houses are comingdown and new McMansions with more bathrooms than bedrooms are going up. Manyhistoric urban neighborhoods are seen as too expensive to rehabilitate. Theirdemolition is often a preface to a developer's plan for a drive-throughpharmacy. Coltsville would probably still be of no interest to investorsdespite its historic significance if the state had not promised to pumpmillions of dollars into nearby Adriaen's Landing -- thus creating a marketfor upscale historic housing.
We preservationists can't do much about this situation until a property'shistory becomes a marketable commodity to developers. Preservationists needsomehow to create market incentives to save old houses.
Helen Higgins is the executive director of the Connecticut Trust forHistoric Preservation, based in Hamden.
It used to be that when you were in a city or a suburb, you knew it. Andwhen you were in the countryside, you knew that, too. The sights, thesensations, even the smells were different in a rural area, and most peopleappreciated that.
Now the distinctiveness of Connecticut's varied settings is diminishing asdevelopment spreads out. The landscape's appeal is eroding. The state, andespecially Gov. John G. Rowland, need to counteract that trend beforeConnecticut fritters away an important source of its allure.
The current approach -- saving a few acres here, a few acres there -- isnot enough. What's needed is a coordinated effort to concentrate developmentin logical places, such as cities and town centers, and to stop subsidizingdispersal. Maryland advanced toward that goal under Gov. Parris Glendening.Connecticut needs its governor to take the lead on enhancing the state'scharacter, which remains one of our greatest assets.
Philip Langdon of New Haven is senior editor of New Urban News and authorof ``A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb'' (University ofMassachusetts Press, 1994).
Cancel Q Bridge Project
The stretch of I-95 between New Haven and New York was dubbed ``the worstroad in America'' by Connecticut magazine this month. Commuters face a dailynightmare of bumper-to-bumper congestion and the uncertainty that one accidentcould shut down the highway altogether. Companies are leery of moving tosouthwestern Connecticut, and many folks have left the area for good.
It is not just a quality-of-life issue. Connecticut is at risk of becomingan economic cul-de-sac if we don't solve our congestion problems. Is highwayexpansion the answer? I think not. Among the state's top transportationprojects right now is widening the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven(also known as the Q Bridge) to 10 lanes. This asphalt extravaganza isestimated to cost about $1 billion and take 12 years. This will make trafficcongestion worse. Why? Because by the state Department of Transportation's ownanalysis, the bridge will be at capacity three years after completion.
What should be done this year? Cancel the Q Bridge project and reprogramthe money for the following rail improvements in the I-95 corridor, which canbe accomplished in far less than 12 years:
Replace the 100-year-old catenaries (overhead wires that power the trains)on the New York-to-New Haven section of the Northeast corridor. The old wiresare in such bad condition that the trains can only run about 60 mph. The statesays it will take 10 years to do the replacements. It can be done in two.
Make Shore Line East commuter service a two-way service rather than justserving customers from New London to Stamford in the morning and returning atnight.
Institute high-frequency trolley bus/jitney service at Connecticut's trainstations to minimize the need for massive, ugly parking garages.
Molly McKay of Mystic is transportation chairwoman of the Connecticutchapter of the Sierra Club.
Rebuilding City Government
The single highest priority in 2003 for the Greater Hartford area is thecontinued rebuilding of the Hartford city government -- a process begun by anew mayor and city manager in 2002 after years under the debilitating monopolystewardship of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee. However, the revolutionhas barely begun; the real test will come with the formal transition at theend of 2003 to a strong-mayor form of government. The precedents establishedin 2003 and 2004 will set the tone in city hall for years to come.
Beyond obvious benefits to the city itself -- reclaiming control of itsschools and downtown development, and re-enfranchising its voters -- effectiveleadership from Hartford's central city government will give the 29-townregion of nearly 1 million people a much louder voice in the General Assembly,with the governor and with the federal government.
This role cannot be played nearly as effectively by a group of suburbantowns acting without its historic and demographic center.
We've been so long without it that we may not understand the regionalbenefits of enlightened political leadership at Greater Hartford's urban core.
Toni Gold is a senior associate with Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofittechnical assistance, research and advocacy organization whose mission is tocreate and sustain public places that build community. She lives in Hartford.
The most important issue in 2003 for the protection of Hartford'senvironment would be the passage of legislation to prevent all pollutingfacilities from being located in any one town. ``An Act ConcerningEnvironmental Justice'' would allow state agencies to protect Connecticutresidents from cumulative environmental exposure and ``to ensure that nosegment of the population bears a disproportionate burden of environmentalrisk.''
This legislation is needed because Hartford serves as the dumping groundfor trash and sewage from more than 70 towns in three states. Although thecity is already overburdened with eight waste facilities serving multipletowns, there continue to be proposals for new facilities.
Over the past few years, there have also been proposals for an additionalpower plant, a medical waste facility, a used-diesel-truck dealership and atruck stop. And now Capitol Transload is proposing to build a seconddemolition waste transfer station in Hartford -- even though the currenttransfer station has excess capacity.
A recent University of Hartford study shows that air pollution sources andwaste facilities in Connecticut are concentrated disproportionately inlow-income communities and communities of color.
Environmental justice legislation would allow the state Department ofEnvironmental Protection and other agencies to stem the tide of regional wasteand polluting facilities coming to Hartford and other overburdenedcommunities.
Mark A. Mitchell is president of the Connecticut Coalition forEnvironmental Justice, based in Hartford.
Build On History
When art skillfully embraces tradition, magic can happen. Fortunately forHartford, three of the most prominent architects of this era have turned theirtalents to designs that complement historic structures. The first of these isthe Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's grand expansion and renovation designedby UN Studio. The second, which is under construction, is the freestandingEducation and Visitor Center at the historic Mark Twain House, theexhilarating design of Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The project that willproduce the most dramatic change is Coltsville, in part because it has thefurthest to go and in part because its scale is huge -- 700,000 square feet ofresidential and commercial space, plus amenities including museums and parks.Selecting the acclaimed Hartford firm of Tai Soo Kim Partners to design thetransformation of this former arms factory was an inspired choice. Adding tothe excitement is the prospect that Coltsville's neighborhood may bedesignated a national historical park.
Still, tremendous challenges remain, including securing public and privatefinancing, viable tenants and community support. Unlike the others, this is afor-profit venture.
John Motley of Burlington is president of Travelers Property CasualtyFoundation.
When times are tough, the tough-minded do planning. Precisely becauseConnecticut's government is in a protracted budget crunch, now is the time tothink of how to throw the state's still-enormous weight around better. Thephysical shape of Connecticut can be improved, literally laying thefoundations for improved fiscal shape. This is an opportunity to do thingsbetter by doing them differently, not just doing the same old things in adiminished way.
For obvious starters, Connecticut's Department of Transportation, with abrand-new head and still with a nearly billion-dollar budget, can think aheadto greener, more efficient transportation and linkages with land uses. It can:
Plan for parking decks instead of surface lots at busy passenger railstations, freeing up land for tax-paying development.
Plan for getting tractor-trailers off the interstate highways, and so savelives and undercut the idiot waste of money on new lanes and perpetualmaintenance. The state can't keep up what it has already; lighten the loads.
Plan roads that do not rob value from the towns through which they run.
And mind our civic home. Especially in tough times, state government needsto look like an operation in which everyone -- tax-paying citizens, stateworkers and politicians alike -- can take pride. Make a plan for a coherent,compact beautiful state Capitol campus in Hartford. Vision and will arerequired more than money.
Patrick Pinnell is an architect and planner in Haddam and a Courantcolumnist.
It's about transportation, dummy! Connecticut is, as the Gallis Reportsuggested in 1999, in serious danger of becoming disconnected from adjacentmetropolitan regional economies and the global economy. Now, as a resident ofNew Haven, I am tempted to make the improvement of Tweed Airport (keeping itscurrent name!) my No. 1 priority. But, as a citizen of Connecticut, I'llsettle for supporting the No. 1 priority of the I-91 Transportation InvestmentArea Corridor Plan, as submitted to the Transportation Strategy Board:building a New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail link.
Hartford has been there before, with the Griffin Line proposal, and failedto cash in. Now is the time to link the major cities, airports and researchcenters along this corridor and, by the way, plan future growth and land usein relation to that transit link. If we build it, they will ride.
Alan J. Plattus is a professor of architecture and urbanism at the YaleUniversity School of Architecture.
Appearances can be deceiving. When viewed from space, Connecticut appearsflat. When viewed from the ground, most of the land appears to be in slope. Aview from the middle distance -- perhaps from a trap rock ridge such as AvonMountain or Sleeping Giant -- reveals the truth that Connecticut consists ofthree basic topographic settings: rolling upland, flat lowland and thegenerally steep transition between them.
In the good old days of the mid-20th century, urban sprawl pushed homesites away from lowland settings onto upland ones, most of which were fine. Inthe bad new days of the early 21st century, however, urban sprawl is pushinghouses onto the steep transitional settings. There, wonderful things likescenic vistas and proximity to central cities collide with potentiallyterrible things like steep slopes, complex micro-terrain, thin soils, quirkyhydro-geology, erosion-prone driveways, potential landslides and old stonewalls that just happen to be in the way. For most of Connecticut's history,such sites were left for wood lot, back pasture or sugar bush. Several decadesago, they weren't worth the trouble of developing. Now, however, they havebecome the sites of palatial houses, the environmental impacts of whichusually go unnoticed.
What's needed this year is a more intensive review of these sites beforesubdivision development, and more monitoring if and when they are allowed tomock our environmental sensibilities.
Robert M. Thorson is a geology professor at the University of Connecticutand author of ``Stone By Stone: The Magnificent History In New England's StoneWalls''' (Walker & Company, 2002).
My No.1 priority would be to bring new units of downtown Hartford housingonto the market within the next year. Better yet, these housing units shouldbe built for young professionals.
This new Commentary page is fittingly entitled ``Place.'' As an architect,I define ``place'' as physical space activated by people. As a result of thischemistry, space becomes place. Downtown Hartford has lost much of its senseof place over the past decades to demolition, parking lots and the loss ofhousing, all accompanied by virtually no new development. The essentialbuilding block in a downtown revitalization strategy must be housing and lotsof it. We need to offer a compelling alternative to the suburban, car-basednorm. If done with care and supported with pedestrian-friendly amenities, morepeople will choose this housing option.
This strategy needs to be followed with tenacity, in clusters, street bystreet, until a cohesive downtown neighborhood takes hold. The action strategylaid out in the Greenberg Plan in 1998 shows us the way.
Tyler Smith is an architect in Hartford.
It's The Economy
The No. 1 priority for Connecticut this year? It's the economy, stupid! Theweak economy has reduced sales, income and corporate tax collections, and adeficit exceeding $1 billion is hanging over the state. The state has givenlayoff notices to 2,800 workers, and the legislature and the governor arediscussing further cuts and tax increases. Municipalities across our stateface the most difficult budget year since the heart of the deep recession of1990-91. Most major cities receive more than 50 percent of their revenue fromthe state; cuts in that aid will severely affect them. The present taxstructure is a detriment to all our communities, but for the poorest cities,it is a millstone.
Ronald F. Van Winkle is community services director for West Hartford.
No More Quick Fixes
No. 1 priority for the region this year? How about no more No. 1priorities? Putting something first buys into the dubious idea that a singleissue can be more important than all others. It just isn't so -- it's allinterconnected. Abandon nonsensical hierarchies! And, while we're at it,reject arbitrary assignments!
It also implies that a focus on one big thing leads to other things gettingfixed. Witness Constitution Plaza and the Hartford Civic Center. Quick fixesdon't fix anything.
Don't pretend: Recognize what isn't here, and complain about it. (Don't weall, incessantly?) But open our eyes to what we've got rather than what wemight import. (Could we please abandon the ill-conceived attempt tomanufacture an ``attraction,'' and instead bet on innovative, entrepreneurialand successful organizations that are homegrown?)
Dance to Latin music. Come to Real Art Ways. Wear something sexy. Eat jerkchicken. Visit Parkville. Say ``obrigado.'' Polka. Learn which one is Dollieand which one is Jackie. Embrace subtitles. Laugh too loud. Stay out late.
Will K. Wilkins is executive director of Real Art Ways in Hartford.
The state's top priority for the coming year must be to finally give thestate Plan of Conservation and Development the teeth it needs to guide smartgrowth in Connecticut. The plan is little more than advisory tomunicipalities, a helpful resource but not the final say on where developmentwill proceed and where conservation should prevail. Land-use patterns impactall of the growth and development issues plaguing the state -- from trafficcongestion to disappearing open space -- and must be dealt with acrossmunicipalities. There's nothing stopping one municipality from moving aheadwith development that adds traffic and pollution to neighboring areas. Bygiving the state plan real authority, we can start to proactively plan our ownfuture, rather than reacting to crises at the eleventh hour. As Gov. James E.McGreevey is discovering now in New Jersey, enforcing smart growth isn't aneasy thing to do. It is, however, the only thing to do if we care about thefuture of our state.
Robert D. Yaro of New Canaan is president of the Regional Plan Association,an independent metropolitan-policy group based in Manhattan.
Copyright © 2018, CT Now