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THE NEW GREEN: iQuilt - Giving Hartford a future

By Kelsey Sullivan
On February 20, 2014

In past articles I have demonstrated that walkability is a powerful factor - perhaps the most powerful - in determining the environmental and human health of our communities. However, not all areas are prime candidates for walkability efforts. If a development was designed as sprawl, it will always remain sprawl. It is more practical to focus our efforts on already-existing sites that are poised to be walkable neighborhoods - places with historic downtown infrastructure and higher densities. Attention, time and financial investment should be spent on making these sites more walkable and desirable to live in. One such important effort that is underway in Hartford is called the iQuilt Plan.
The iQuilt Plan was launched in 2008 and officially adopted by the city in 2010. The Metro Hartford Alliance officially manages the Plan, but according to its website, the iQuilt Partnership consists of "a comprehensive coalition of Hartford's public, private, non-profit and community organizations." The main feature of the plain is a pedestrian "GreenWalk" that will connect the capitol area, downtown and riverfront. It calls for the redevelopment of Bushnell Park in order to enhance its natural features and to integrate it with the downtown. An extension to the park, named Bushnell Gardens, (the first addition in the park's 150-year history) will be built to connect the park to Main Street. The Plan explains: "a roadway and unused lawn are transformed into a 1.5 acre park site, providing a critical but missing link in the GreenWalk. The gardens will be a model for sustainable land use, rain harvesting, native gardens, cultural activity, and public engagement." The Plan also includes new parks, plazas, and over 15 pilot projects such as modern wayfinding signs, biking ammendities, pop-up studios, and an innovative online interface. To promote the Plan, the iQuilt Partnership coordinates the annual EnvisionFest, which launched in 2012 and takes place in Bushnell Park in September. The free festival showcases over 100 vendors, performances and activities.
The iQuilt Partnership was also part of a team of organizations that successfully applied for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant in order to coordinate transportation improvements in the capitol area, known as the Intermodal Triangle Project. As stated in the grant application: "The number one priority of the Plan is to reduce the overall dependence on the automobvile," and in June 2012 the team was awarded $10 million to accomplish that goal. The Intermodal Triangle Project features a variety of transit redevelopment programs in a wide spectrum of scales: "Downtown intermodal connections (pedestrian, bike, taxi, bus, rail, air) are strengthened through creation of Intermodal Hubs, Transit Priority Streets, Complete Green Streets, and the innovative iQuilt pedestrian network."
Construction on the first phase of the iQuilt Plan could begin this spring, including work on State House Square, Gold Street and Union Station. The iQuilt Plan has a Facebook page which it updates regularly with useful information, and a comprehensive website as well. Although no plan is perfect and we should always be thorough and discriminating about where our tax dollars go, I for one am excited about the iQuilt Plan. I would love to live in a state that had a real "destination city," and the Plan's emphasis on decreasing car-use will ensure that it will have tremendous environmental benefit. Indeed, if the Hartford that iQuilt envisions actually existed today, I would probably be moving there after college. As it is, I will be one of the many UConn grads looking for a more fulfilling city life out-of-state. Perhaps if the Plan is successful, some of us will revisit our capitol city in a few years time, and see if it is a place that is inviting enough to stay.

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