Reclaiming a City, Hartford

  • Local Projects
  • 1996

Starting in the 1950s, the city of Hartford slowly tumbled from being one of the wealthiest cities in America to becoming one of the poorest. The city hit bottom in the mid-1990s when several key industries closed, moved, or cut staff. The population was shrinking and crime was roaring. Hartford’s leading citizens and organizations decided to act.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving began advocating for a plan to develop the city’s neglected riverfront and make it a centerpiece of revitalization. The foundation provided $1 million over four years to fuel the effort. Individual donors, businesses, and governments then joined in.

Meanwhile, the president of Hartford’s Trinity College, Evan Dobelle, decided to fight the deterioration of the neighborhood around his college. In 1996, he announced a $175 million initiative with investment from the college endowment to encourage more owner-occupied housing, and to improve schools, nonprofits, and performing arts in the area. The Kellogg Foundation and others added funding. Dobelle would go on to champion similar investments by nonprofit universities aimed at shoring up single-family living in college towns across New England.

By 1998, almost 500,000 people a year were frequenting Hartford’s riverfront. $1.5 billion in further investment was being directed into the area. Hartford was on its way to being a liveable city again.

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