March 7, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 12:15 PM EST
Joe Barber revealed another step towards a city inventory when he handed me a book last week called “A Hartford Primer and Field Guide.” Produced by the wizards at Trinity College’s Cities Data Center, the Primer indicts state-subsidized segregation through its in-depth factual presentation.
The Primer, whose second edition was self-published in December 2003, covers 10 areas like local economy, health, housing, politics, and poverty, and it contains a thorough index, all in under 200 pages. Originally created in 2001 by Professor Ivan Kuzyk to link Trinity to its host city, the Primer has assumed an almost cult status among city devotees.
Leading this edition’s first chapter on cities with a quote from David Rusk’s book Cities Without Suburbs, the Primer asserts that Hartford’s grinding poverty is the product of a negligent state. It concludes that without regional help, Hartford may suffer more. While moving borders would change poverty percentages and home-ownership rates, it won’t alter Hartford’s miserable daily realities.
The Primer puts numbers on those realities, like in the neighborhoods section, I see why I was attacked twice in four months. Annually, Asylum Hill leads Hartford’s 18 neighborhoods with 126 robberies and 84 aggravated assaults (as of 2000). Our bordering ‘hood, the West End, had just 39 robberies and eight assaults.
All of the Primer’s information is well-sourced, like the crime stats above from the Hartford Police Department. The Primer cites authorities like the U.S. census, real estate industry studies and city government. Yet it doesn’t hesitate to question city numbers. For example, it wonders how city educators raised the number of graduating students who went on to higher education from 50 to 70 percent in under two years.
The Primer’s critical examination of Hartford can help plan future ventures. Like when I mentioned to Catholic Worker Chris Doucot my idea for micromedia — instead of building low power FM radio stations (100 watt or under transmitters which broadcast 2-5 miles yet are illegal under FCC rules), create low power newspapers.
Print an 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper daily or three times weekly about the street you live on. I’d call mine “Laurel Street News,” fill it with neighborhood news and distribute it to Laurel Street residents. Is there enough advertising to support it? How many copies are needed for the potential audience?
That’s when Doucot referenced his Primer and dropped this mind-bomb: 41 percent of Hartford habitants survive with Level One literacy skills. This means two of five people on my street can’t read a newspaper; extrapolated citywide, it says 50,000 Hartfordites can read street signs, but can’t find an intersection on a map, can’t fill out background info on a social security application, can’t read a bus schedule, and can barely decipher a pay stub.
This fact also makes Kuzyk, who attended Bulkeley in the 1970s, wonder how helpful his book is if many who might benefit from it can’t comprehend it.
Individual copies are available at Gallows Hill Bookstore on the Trinity Campus. For bulk purchases, call Professor Kuzyk at 297-2112.