Students in Downtown Hartford

Once upon a time, Trinity College was located just across Bushnell Park from Downtown Hartford. The college had a 10 acre (relatively small) campus that the City of Hartford offered to buy in 1872. The Trustees accepted, and moved the school to its present location in 1878.

As a general rule, I try not to second guess decisions that were made more than one hundred years ago.  Eighty-six is my limit.  Once you get to one hundred, it just doesn’t seem productive.  However, after spending a little time in and around the Yale campus this weekend, it seemed obvious that the hustle and bustle of students would be a tremendous addition to downtown Hartford.

Trinity in Hartford
Suppose Trinity College were still downtown and occupied a campus represented by the blue figure, which is the original 10 acres and numerous adjacent lots. The Bushnell would be part of the campus. The vast parking lots would be replaced by academic buildings, dorms or athletic fields. Sure there would need to be some parking, but perhaps it would be tasteful garages rather than asphalt wastelands. Most importantly, there would be 2,240 full-time students to help support a vibrant residential community.

Trinity isn’t moving back, of course. Fortunately, others have recognized the benefits of bringing students downtown and have been taking steps in the right direction. The UConn Business School opened the Financial Accelerator on Constitution Plaza. Capital Community College is in the G. Fox Building. There was even some student housing built in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Sage Allen building. Someone recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Courant that UConn should move some of their schools downtown (sorry, couldn’t find the link).

Hartford today is a very different place than it would have been with Trinity right across the park.  Hopefully the momentum to bring excitement downtown will continue in the coming years and will include student-residents.  It’s just unfortunate that the burden now seems to be on private developers that are far more sensitive to the economic environment.  If 2,000 students lived downtown they would help stabilize the downtown economy, and there would definitely be a grocery store by now…