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Helping Cities Triumph

by | Mar 31, 2011 3:42pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Local Politics

He may currently reside in the suburbs, but Harvard Economist Edward Glaeser is passionate about cities.

During his visit to Hartford Thursday, Glaeser author of “Triumph of the City,“ told local elected officials that “Human capital is vital to metropolitan success.”

Attracting human capital is a decades old problem for the capital city and while there were several solutions bandied about by local elected officials after Glaeser’s talk, it was clear there’s still no magic bullet.

Glaeser opined that cities thrive when construction of housing units rise because it drives down the cost of real estate and slows growth to surrounding suburbs.

He said if cities stop building housing then the housing that exists there creates a “boutique town” that only the wealthy can afford. He said the problems usually isn’t a shortage of land, but local elected officials who won’t allow it to be built.

He said there’s also a tendency for cities to invest in things such as infrastructure instead of focusing on how to attract human capital. He said the most important aspect for attracting human capital is a good local school system. He said that’s why young professionals often pack up and leave urban areas to find good schools for their children.

He joked that’s what he did when he started “acquiring children.”

He suggested the state work to reduce the barriers to new types of schools, such as charter schools which have showed some success, but often have to compete for public funds. He said if schools operated like restaurants which need to compete in order to survive then everyone would be better for it.

Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, agreed. She said charter schools are begging the state for money when a majority of school funding is going to public schools in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport.

“I want to see inner city public schools thrive,” Klarides said. But added that giving them some competition from charter schools will help. However,  proposals to change the state’s education cost sharing grant don’t seem to be moving forward quickly this year in the legislature.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said he’s trying his best to make Hartford an exciting place to live by growing housing in the downtown area and bringing down blighted properties such as the Capitol West building.

He said there’s 113 acres ready for development in Hartford.

However, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton added that if a city is unable to clean up the snow then none of the above makes any difference. Boughton was referring to this winter’s debacle in New York City.

“You’ve gotta be able to deliver the services in an effective manner,” Boughton said. “It’s people that drive innovation in a city, not infrastructure.”

Boughton said if cities can get populations with discretionary income to move back then the services, which relocated to the suburbs to service that population will move back too. He said that’s why he gave residents tax credits to move back into the city because he knew the services and businesses would follow.

Segarra said part of the problem with getting services, better schools, better police, and better public services is 57 percent of the grand list in the city is tax exempt. He said the capital city wants to move ahead, but it can’t do that without help from the state.

Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who led a task force on regionalization last year, said part of the problem is the way the state of Connecticut is set up. He said all 169 cities and towns are always competing against each other for tax revenues creating urban sprawl.

He said the current model is unsustainable because of its over reliance on the property tax.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget will allow cities and towns to get a piece of sales and hotel tax revenue it never saw in the past, but Boughton opined it wasn’t enough to offset the other revenue the state won’t be giving cities and towns this year.

Segarra said this broader tax argument comes up year after year, but never gets resolved.

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