Hartford 2000 is a coalition of Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committees and the City of Hartford who come together to share ideas, resources, and information and to work cooperatively together to revitalize Hartford’s neighborhoods. The mission of Hartford 2000 is “to strengthen the individual and collective power of the NRZs and to advocate for neighborhood issues”. It is one of the few organizations that brings residents of the entire city together at one table.
Hartford 2000 came into existence in 1997 and has evolved into an effective forum for neighborhoods to learn from one another, to develop working relationships among neighborhoods, and to provide the City of Hartford with input and assistance on projects and activities promoting neighborhood stabilization and revitalization. The City government uses Hartford 2000 as its principal mechanism for soliciting community involvement in decision-making on neighborhood development.
Hartford 2000 evolved from two events, which took place in 1995 and 1996. The first was the passage by the Connecticut State Legislature of Public Act 95-340, “An Act Establishing A Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Process”. The second was the decision by the City of Hartford to include the NRZs in the development of an application for State Urban Act funds.
The Neighborhood Revitalization Zone process is a mechanism to revitalize neighborhoods where there are significant numbers of properties that are abandoned, blighted, foreclosed and deteriorated. The NRZ legislation makes available certain benefits, including expanded powers of eminent domain and waivers of state and local environmental, health, and safety codes. In order to take advantage of these benefits, a neighborhood must define its boundaries as a Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ), form an NRZ committee composed of all stakeholders in the NRZ, and prepare a strategic plan for the NRZ. The local legislative body adopts the strategic plan by ordinance and the plan then governs activities within the NRZ.
Fourteen NRZs have been formed in Hartford. They are Asylum Hill, Blue Hills, Clay Arsenal, Sheldon-Charter Oak, Frog Hollow South, North Frog Hollow, MARG (Maple Avenue area), Northeast, Parkville, South End, South Green, Upper Albany, SODO (South of Downtown), and West End. All of the NRZs completed neighborhood strategic plans and the Hartford Court of Common Council has adopted those plans as ordinances. NRZs are now updating their plans to reflect goals that have been accomplished and those are still being worked on. Sheldon-Charter Oak has completed its amendments and they have been adopted by the Hartford City Council.
In 1996 the City Of Hartford had an opportunity to apply for State grant funds through a program known as the Urban Act program. Urban Act funds are intended primarily for capital projects. The City asked the NRZs to identify the most critical needs in the neighborhoods and to develop strategies to address those needs with Urban Act dollars. Those strategies were incorporated into the City’s application for Urban Act funds, entitled the “Hartford Neighborhoods Stabilization and Revitalization Initiative”.
After submission of the application to the State, representatives of the NRZs decided to work together to educate State legislators and staff about the stabilization and revitalization activities included in the application and to convince them to approve the application. NRZ members from every neighborhood came together and, assisted by several City staff people, planned and implemented an educational strategy. As part of that strategy, they hosted a reception for State and local elected and appointed officials at which neighborhood leaders described their revitalization needs, explained the initiatives underway, and outlined how an infusion of State dollars would advance the revitalization agendas. Each neighborhood prepared a display to illustrate their needs and projects. After extensive discussion and negotiation, a grant of $7.0 million was approved by the Governor and the State Bond Commission.
The representatives of the NRZs found that the interaction and cooperation with other neighborhoods, which had taken place during the efforts to secure State funds, was an unusual and positive occurrence. Previously, Hartford neighborhoods were more often competitive than they were cooperative. The neighborhood leaders decided to meet monthly to continue the interaction. At the NRZs request, the City of Hartford provided a meeting place in City Hall and the City’s Assistant City Manager volunteered to serve as a liaison with the City.
NRZ leaders began to learn about their commonalties and differences. They met residents and business people from other parts of Hartford who were equally committed to revitalizing the city. They took positions on issues of importance to all neighborhoods and agreed to participate in citywide initiatives. As time passed, other entities in the community, such as the Capital City Economic Development Authority, the Capital Region Growth Council, and the Hartford Economic Development Commission, began attending Hartford 2000 meetings and requesting time on the agenda to discuss their issues or seek Hartford 2000 support for actions. The NRZs were listened to and acknowledged by state and local elected officials and staff and their ideas were respected and implemented. As a result of this experience, the NRZs decided to continue working together for the benefit of Hartford neighborhoods.
In 2000, Hartford 2000 established the Neighborhood Training Institute which provides training for residents and other individuals in community economic development, the NRZ program, commercial district revitalization, commercial real estate development, and other areas of interest and importance to Hartford’s neighborhoods. The City Administration and the NRZs, through Hartford 2000, jointly developed the City’s 1998 application for State Urban Act bond funds. The State approved a $12.2 million grant to continue projects begun with the previous $7.0 million. Although only $4.0 million was actually received, those funds were used within the NRZs to improve neighborhood infrastructure.
In 2001, Hartford 2000 was able to carry out organizational planning, with the help of the Annie E. Casey Foundation which provided technical services and funding for the growth of H2K. This planning resulted in a three-year plan entitled “Hartford 2000’s Plan for the Future”. As a result of this planning, the State of Connecticut provided a grant of $60,000 to support the work of the NRZs and Hartford 2000.
From an informal group of individuals, Hartford 2000 began to evolve into an ongoing entity. Bylaws were developed, with the help of the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative, and procedures set up to ensure fairness and openness. From the beginning, it was agreed that decisions would be made by consensus and anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend meetings and participate in all discussions. Each year, Hartford 2000 holds an annual 1½ day retreat to review activities and accomplishments in the previous year and to develop an action plan for the new year.
Hartford 2000 obtained its designation by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in November of 2006. However, it continues to function with volunteers and a half-time staff consultant. Hartford 2000 shares office space with the Coalition to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood (CSS/CON), one of Hartford’s fourteen NRZs, in a building leased by the Capital Region Education Council.
In the past two years, Hartford 2000 has continued to sponsor and present workshops, panel discussions, and speakers on a variety of topics of interest to Hartford neighborhoods. In addition, the organization has taken a more active role in policy making, by providing input to legislators, by having representatives on task forces and committees, such as the Property Tax Reform Task Force and the Homeless Working Group, and by participating in press conferences, public hearings, and similar actions to accomplish a goal.
Hartford 2000 does much of its work through partnerships with organizations and groups in the community. Currently, Hartford 2000 is working with the Hartford Public Library, MetroHartford Alliance, Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), ACORN, and the Hartford Preservation Alliance. The City’s Economic Development Division and the Capital Region Mental Health Center are also active with Hartford 2000.