Move over Suburbs: The Case for Hartford’s Expansion 

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In this article, Fagan makes a case for Hartford to expand its borders. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran

“The Nutmeg State,” “The Constitution State,” “The Land of Steady Habits” — all of these have a nice ring to them, but the main thing that stands out for Connecticut these days is not so savory: Our huge disparities in wealth. According to census data from the 2010s, Connecticut ranks second overall in income inequality, just behind our neighbor New York. This comes as no surprise to those of us who have driven through any of the state’s cities and corresponding suburbs. This is particularly relevant to me, a born and raised West Hartford kid. 

It was difficult to understand when I was younger how there could be such a stark difference in the drive from downtown Hartford into some of West Hartford’s neighborhoods; however, the situation becomes clearer when you understand the deliberate nature of this on the part of city planners. In 1924, West Hartford enacted zoning laws that heavily limited the amount of multi-family units that could be built. This was targeted towards Black buyers because, by and large, they had much less wealth in comparison to white buyers. This fit with a nationwide trend in the middle of the twentieth century of wealthier white city dwellers fleeing urban areas for suburban developments. 

The remedy I see as most effective to this problem in the Hartford region is allowing the city to expand its boundaries to include its surrounding suburbs and towns. This makes sense to me as a large portion of the people living in these neighboring communities drive into Hartford for work every day. While this may seem far-fetched, it is not at all anomalous to the history of American cities. What we know today as Boston and New York City started as much smaller city centers that eventually engulfed the surrounding neighborhoods. This was done in an effort to improve the allocation of resources and services between the various communities.  

Why did New York and Boston do this and not Hartford, you might ask? The answer lies in the state legal codes surrounding what cities are allowed to do. In Massachusetts and New York, municipalities have more legal basis in annexing their surrounding towns if there is justification to do so. This is not the case in Connecticut, however, as each of the 169 towns has supreme jurisdiction over its boundaries. While this may all seem like complicated legal jargon, it has a real effect on the prosperity and quality of livelihoods within Connecticut’s towns. A 2006 study conducted by the Brookings Institute found that “A city’s ability to annex land from its surrounding county is a primary determinant of its fiscal health. Cities with greater abilities to annex have much higher bond rating scores.” Essentially, this score determines how safe it is for a city to receive a loan based on their overall financial health and ability; it behooves a city to keep this high. 

Put simply, Hartford needs to expand its borders to incorporate the nearby communities so that the entire metropolitan area has a vested interest in the city. With the way things are set up now, the suburbs have no incentive to improve Hartford and seem to see this pursuit as counterintuitive to the betterment of their own towns. In 2018, with Hartford facing bankruptcy and an inability to support its budget, Mayor Luke Bronin appealed to the neighboring towns for assistance. He got a tepid response from most and, according to the Hartford Courant, “At least one suburban mayor blamed Hartford for its problems… others fretted about paying Hartford’s share of the regional water and sewer bill.” 

With the apparent lack of incentive on the part of Hartford’s suburbs towards providing economic support and resources to the capital city, it is imperative that we as residents of this state change the state’s laws to allow Hartford to annex. The inefficiencies of the current system with its mish-mash of towns is obvious when you drive eastward on Albany avenue from West Hartford into Hartford’s North End. There is simply no good reason for these huge disparities to exist and allowing the capital region to exist as a more cohesive unit with its own borders will help to resolve this. If we want to see Hartford become a more lively city, it should follow the lead of the other cities along the northeastern corridor that expanded where it made sense. We must consider these seemingly out-of-the-box proposals if we want to start imagining a new and improved Hartford.  

4 COMMENTS

  1. I couldn’t agree more. In addition to the excellent points the article has made it is worth noting that, as I recall, 55% of Hartford is not taxed equitably due to the state buildings, churches, and other exceptions.

  2. Sorry, get after your absentee landlords and create more affordable housing. Improve your schools and do something about your crime rate. Make your city a more attractive place to live and people will want to move in and participate in your venues. Take a cue from New Britain.

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