Editorial: Is gentrification what Hartford needs?

Gentrification has carried a negative connotation for decades, perceived as the process by which new residents or developers invest in communities, raising property values and forcing poorer residents out. There are arguments that gentrification could play a positive role in Hartford. (Creative Commons/David Wilson)

In a recent op-ed, Andrew Deener, from the UConn Department of Sociology, and Jonathan Wynn, from UMass-Amherst, argued that gentrification could play a positive role in Hartford. Gentrification has carried a negative connotation for decades, perceived as the process by which new residents or developers invest in communities, raising property values and forcing poorer residents out. Deener and Wynn make a compelling case that the most negative effects of gentrification are felt in large cities like New York and Boston and that smaller cities like Hartford may experience positive effects.

This Editorial Board recently contended that revitalizing Hartford and making it a place with more opportunities and resources could go a long way towards fixing not only the city’s finances but also some of the economic presents in the state. College graduates are leaving the state in large part because young workers want to live in vibrant urban areas, companies are leaving because the skilled workers are leaving, and the lack of tax revenue as a result  has devastated the state’s finances. Hartford itself is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Gentrification often refers to economic investment in an area, which has been demonstrated to pay dividends in smaller cities. Deener and Wynn point to the example of North Adams, MA; a small city that transformed its old manufacturing plant into a fine art museum that injected over $30 million into the local economy by attracting tourists and creating opportunities for businesses.

One could argue that gentrification has already started with the opening of UConn’s Hartford campus, something that has brought thousands of students to downtown Hartford. Further investments in the city could go a long way towards attracting new residents, creating a more stable tax base and encouraging business development. New investments could take many forms, from a focus on the arts to urban night life to technical innovation.

Deener and Wynn point out that gentrification does not necessarily have to displace less wealthy people; policies like rent control and mixed income housing have mitigated its negative effects in many places. If nothing is done to aid Hartford the city’s populace and Connecticut’s finances will continue to suffer. A revitalization of Hartford could not only steer the city away from bankruptcy, but might provide the spark that Connecticut needs to finally get its economy back on track. It is by no means an easy, quick, or guaranteed solution, but based on the success of other cities, it is a strong option.