Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Depressing Hartford Statistic of the Day

It's good that people like American City Business Journals are around to kick us when we're down.

Hartford, Conn., with its high poverty level and old or vacant housing, is the most stressful of the 245 cities ranked by American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business newspapers. (AP)

Well, great. Are there any city rankings out there that Hartford isn't at or near the bottom of these days?

Hartford is more "stressful" even than Newark. Ouch. Here's what the study was measuring:

* Percentage of people living below the federally designated poverty level
* Ratio of households with low annual incomes (below $25,000) to those with high incomes (above $100,000)
* Unemployment rate
* Percentage of adults (25 or older) who didn't graduate from high school
* Percentage of households defined by the Census Bureau as "linguistically isolated," meaning that no one older than 13 speaks English well
* Percentage of families headed by one adult, with no spouse present
* Percentage of homes sitting vacant (not including vacation homes)

"Linguistically isolated"? I suppose immigrants make for stressful cities. Of course, the study doesn't take into account the ethnic neighborhood structures that these "linguistically isolated" people can rely on. Hartford is essentially a bilingual city. And how does one define speaking English "well"?

It also seems that single-parent households are obviously bad for business, and cause "socioeconomic stress". All right, then!

So many of Hartford's problems are a factor of geography. Hartford is one of the smallest cities in land area in the country (of 603 cities with more than 50,000 people, Hartford ranks #468 in land area--most of the smaller cities have smaller populations). In other parts of the country, Hartford would probably be joined with the surrounding suburbs. Imagine Hartford, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor, East Hartford, Wethersfield and Newington combined. That's what cities elsewhere are like. But because of New England's atypical structure of many, many incorporated towns (all around 15-30 square miles) instead of counties, townships, etc., Hartford clocks in at 17.3 square miles. This is small even for Connecticut, where the average town is about 30 square miles. Crammed into these 17.3 square miles are some of the worst neighborhoods in the state.

Look at it this way: how well would a place like New York do if the entire city was the worst 17.3 square miles of the Bronx (which is currently 42 sq. miles)? Not well.

In other cities, the more well-to-do parts of town are offsetting the negative impact of poverty-stricken or blighted areas. Hartford, because of its geographic constraints, doesn't really have much in the way of well-to-do areas, and so shows poorly. Does this mean that other cities don't have the problems Hartford does? Of course not. There are terrible neighborhoods in just about every urban center in America. Many are worse than the neighborhoods of Hartford. However, they are also lucky enough (from the point of view of American City Business Journals) to coexist within the same borders as some nice neighborhoods. Stress relieved. Ahhhh.

Still, the study does underscore the desperate state of Hartford and our other major cities. No matter how you slice it, we still have isolated urban cores surrounded by middle-class suburbs. Would the situation in our urban cores improve markedly if some sort of regional authority was placed in charge of schools, services, etc.? Realistically, probably not.

But at least we'd go up in the rankings.

"Gilbert, Scottsdale rated among nation's least stressful cities". Associated Press 9 March 2005.

Thomas, G. Scott. "Hartford carries the heaviest economic stress of any large city". American City Business Journals 14 February 2005.

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