West Hartford, Connecticut: A Case Study for Smart Growth

Growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, I suppose I took for granted the “walkability” that I, along with many other residents, enjoyed. Recently I came across an article in the Hartford Courant discussing real estate value based on proximity to “walkable” communities. As I read the article, and thought back to West Hartford, I began to realize what a great job they have done at developing the town center into an ideal walkable community. When I grew up there, we had the West Hartford Center. The Center is a square half-mile of small shops, restaurants, town buildings, libraries and museums. It was the place to be after middle school, the place to go on dates in high school, and the place to go when I return home now to meet up with friends or just walk and enjoy the environment. The point is, the Center has something for everyone and you can find just about anything you need there. What’s more is that it is located in the densest residential area in West Hartford. So, many people live within walking distance and walk in and out regularly for various purposes. This is very evident if you walk or drive through. The roads are not clogged with cars but the sidewalks are always busy.

Recently, West Hartford took a great step towards establishing itself as a great example of smart growth planning and mixed use development. Blue Back Square was a topic of great debate before it was built in the four or five square blocks adjacent to the West Hartford Center. People worried it would look out of place, compete with the Center businesses, and draw in too much traffic. Now, it is a thriving, complementary neighborhood. It is home to retail shops, department stores, Whole Foods, restaurants, bookstores, museums and more. On top of those establishments are condominiums and apartments for sale/rent. It is even rumored that one of the Boston Celtics bought a condo and lives there in the off season. The whole area is thriving and people walk everywhere. In fact, there is very little room to drive in the area.

This is an interesting case study to think about and almost an ideal to picture and keep in mind when thinking about the possibilities. Smart growth isn’t about stifling development; it is about encouraging the creation of thriving communities and neighborhoods built by mixed use buildings and accessibility. As a side note, West Hartford also has an effective bus system in and out of the Center as well as into Hartford. This adds to the effectiveness of their model. On top of all of this, if the article is accurate, and young adults are drawn to these areas and real estate values increase with accessibility, isn’t that good also? On the joint website for the West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square, they have this map which shows the layout of the area with a complete list of businesses.

Take a look around at the websites and see what you think of the West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square. Is there anything in this example that seems to be missing in the Lehigh Valley? Is this type of development the key to drawing in more young adults as the article implies? Are there any downsides to this type of development?

Posted on December 7, 2009, in Housing, Neighborhoods, Public Infrastructure, Urbanism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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