The uproar over Hartford's attempt at "branding", by a Canadian consulting company if you can believe that, seems to have died down for the time being. But I think it points to a variety of other issues.
The first is the big question as to what we as a city really see ourselves as. Are we the misfit located between New York and Boston and we accept our second rate position because we know we can't compete with those two? I would hope not since we have a lot to offer, but it sometimes seems that is the reality.
Hartford suffers from an identity crisis. We may not want to admit it, but we do. In a city so rich with history, we seem quick to throw that all out when the latest and greatest marketing idea is pitched. Five "h's" in a circle is the latest, really, are you kidding me?
What about a silhouette of the Colt's Building blue onion dome? What about the Sailors and Soldiers memorial Arch? What about the readily identifiable profile of Mark Twain? All symbols of Hartford's rich history and what forms the basis of the foundation for our City. Hartford's history is what should be shapinng our future.
But also so many little things that all form the spokes in the wheel that should be moving Hartford forward are constantly forgotten. As an example, has anyone noticed that the fountains in front of City Hall were never started up this year. The majestic beauty of Hartford City Hall is something that many people noticed as they travelled Main Street. I'm not sure why the fountains aren't operating and why the flower beds that normally are planted in front of City Hall are barren this year.
I know, little things, but it says something about the vibrancy of a city.
Something else I was always impressed with were the Rising Star Shuttles that constantly looped around Downtown Hartford, a courtesy for visitors and people that just wanted to get from point "A" to point "B" downtown. I didn't notice until last Thursday night that it has been a while since I saw the familiar yellow shuttles circling downtown.
I was having dinner on the patio at Hot Tomatoes last Thursday (another one of Hartford's great restaurants) and I saw one of the large Connecticut Company buses that kept circling up Union Place and Ann Street. No riders were on the bus at any point that it passed me. Eventually I noticed on the electronic sign board above the driver said "STAR SHUTTLE". There was no mention that it was a courtesy shuttle or that it was free.
No wonder ridership is down, or for that matter nonexistent. Imagine a McDonald's without any signs or markings and see how many burgers they would sell? Probably not many, especially with people that weren't familiar with it's location. The same is true for the shuttle, it needs to be marketed to be successful.
It also seems like a huge waste to be using a full size bus for something that could be accomplished in a much smaller vehicle. The few times I used the shuttle, the smaller buses almost forced you to be up near the driver and it was almost like a tour bus as they described restaurants and features about Hartford.
One of the biggest things I think we need in Hartford to regain our identity is support for the engine that really drives our City. That engine is our small businesses that have been largely overlooked as they are taxed out of business one by one and no one is standing up to lobby for them. We need to once again start a Chamber of Commerce to be the voice for our small business community.
I know, I know, you are going to say we have the MetroHartford Alliance. "Metro" Hartford isn't the problem, once you get out of Hartford's boundaries, small business's still have a hard time surviving in this economy, but they have a huge advantage when it comes to their mill rate for taxes.
No one is speaking out for Hartford's small business owners, many of whom are also Hartford residents. As you go into your neighborhoods grocery, restaurant, dry cleaners or just about any business, ask them is they belong to a chamber of Commerce. The answer will most likely be no.
If we really want to brand ourselves and start a marketing campaign, how about "Hartford first". As a City and as people who care about Hartford, we need to start putting "Hartford first" and stop settling for mediocrity. We should worry about jobs for Hartford residents first before we go out of our way to bring outside companies in , some of them also from outside Connecticut, for construction jobs in Hartford.
We need to make sure when it comes to small business promotion we remember "Hartford first" and keep our neighborhoods strong by creating more jobs through growing companies. And we also need to start putting "Hartford first" in the way we treat others and our neighbors.
I know I have jumped around a lot on this posting, but before we start spending $100million on the "i-quilt" project, why don't we start focusing on some of the smaller things that help remedy our identity crisis rather than confuse it even more.
UPDATE: apparently the Rising Star Shuttle may be on the chopping block, click on Jeff Cohen's link on the right to read more at WNPR.