The 40-Year Plan:
'cause it ain't gonna happen overnight...
by Ken Krayeske
I'm impatient. Things take too long, even when I see progress.
Take the Hartford Housing Authority. I have seen positive growth, and it gives me hope that visions considered far afield can gain acceptance and practice. Yet the change isn't fast enough for me.
A year ago, I wrote a column about how John Wardlaw, the head of the Hartford Housing Authority, refused to interview with me.
So what a change, then, when Jeff Rivers, HHA's new publicity man (and a refugee from the Courant newsroom whose work there deserved more respect) invited me to a meet and greet with Wardlaw's interim replacement, Lancelot Gordon, Jr.
At this August 18, 2005 press conference, five reporters showed up: Tom Condon, Dave Medina and Oshrat Carmiel from the Hartford Courant, myself and Ed Johnson from the West Indian American.
It took Condon, whose strange fan club has spray-painted his face on the sidewalks at the corner of Asylum and Broad, to note that three-fifths of the reporters there hailed from the same institution, the result of a one-newspaper town.
What seemed like a dozen key people from HHA - including Gordon, Courtney
Anderson, Victor Rush, Angel Arce and Pat Williams - mingled. They plied us with sandwiches and pizza and fruit and soda.
I ate a tuna sandwich and some potato chips. I feel hypocritical because I don't think that HHA should spend housing money feeding me, a homeowner.
And part of me was fidgety because I distrust the sign outside of HHA's new headquarters. A small billboard proclaims George W. Bush's federal support of the taxpayer-financed complex featuring cheap Chinese consumer goods and anti-union employers.
Bush has zero credibility, and when I see his presidency hath wrought Wal-Mart, I seethe. I understand HHA's position with federal funding and regulations, but it shouldn't publicly associate itself with a war criminal like Bush.
Judgment like that adds credence to questions I have about decisions like building a not-very-pedestrian friendly HHA HQ and giving Sam Walton's clan public land for private profit.
Considering that Gordon was a star of Wardlaw's team, I expected little.
The proceedings at first reinforced my prejudices. I heard standard rhetoric cloaking privatization; and I cringed at language couching citizens as consumers, defining anti-poverty services in capitalist terms - HHA has a "core business."
I liked HHA's goal to teach financial literacy and rebuild the inventory of housing stock in Hartford, but a glance of the color architecturals of the new Stowe Village revealed yet another plan to build the worst of Carville, USA instead of a pedestrian paradise.
The blueprints signaled the construction of suburban Nowhereland, rather than dense, mixed-use urban planning.
The duplexes looked inviting, with brick, glass and wood facades. The artists even parked a Mercedes and Lincoln Town Car out front. I asked if the luxury cars came with the houses. People laughed.
But as transportation goes, cars are socially unjust, and Hartford is poor. I tire of taxes financing auto-centric infrastructure. The impending energy crisis, rising oil prices, demand that we stop living on and planning for cheap petroleum. We need alternatives.
Then Gordon gave Pat Williams the floor. She gets it, and works with HHA. Thank God! She described how they spent six months negotiating with city engineers to reduce street width from 30 feet to 28 feet in order to add two feet to the sidewalks.
It's a start, but not enough.
Drawing on traffic calming studies, they created a tree-lined boulevard, which she pointed out in the renderings. She explained how they want to do more, but city regulations can prevent intelligent urban design.
This is where I'm impatient. The momentum that moves institutions towards energy efficiency is growing, but it takes too long for me. I want more, like an end to war.
I asked Gordon if he and I could sit down in October for an in-depth conversation, and he agreed. We talked about the design process for HHA's next phase starting in September. I suggested HHA should use the concepts of LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - to engineer new houses.
Gordon admitted he had not heard of LEED. But what I admired about Gordon was that he listened to my definition of LEED, and that he seemed like a man with the intellectual confidence to research LEED more.
I hope Gordon contacted Twain House ED John Boyer to hear him rave about the new LEED-certified Twain House Museum. Sure, housing stock is different than museums, but Gordon showed poise and pride in discussing how HHA has worked to lower its energy costs at the Smith Towers elderly housing complex.
In my impatient dreams, in the short two weeks before HHA starts its latest design rounds, Gordon is inspired to a vision of HHA as the first public housing agency in Connecticut to construct a LEED-certified, energy-efficient, sustainably-developed, mixed-use, architecturally bold, pedestrian-friendly housing complex.
There is still time.