While some members of a snobby coastal caste might refer to inland parts of America as “fly-over country,” truth be told there are also places that I consider “drive-through cities.” These are the cities that I have driven through multiple times on road trips, and are just part of the scrolling scenery on my way to wherever I’m going.
A good example is Sturbridge, MA. When I was commuting from Boston to Springfield on a regular basis, there was always a sign directing me from I-90 to “Historic Downtown Sturbridge.” Has anyone ever actually gotten off the highway on a whim to see the living history that is Sturbridge? Well, not me – I just drove through.
When I was in college, I would make the Kentucky – Amherst drive at least twice a year; one year I went back and forth four times. There were a lot of good town names along the way – Moosic, PA was my favorite. And then those curious signs in West Virginia reading “A Certified Business Location.” But this was all drive-through territory. Pull off the highway for gas or food or bathroom, and then start rolling again.
Hartford was another one of those places that, up until recently, I considered “drive through” territory. I knew it from my Kentucky road trip days as the place where I would switch from I-91 to I-84. I didn’t have occasion to stop there – I was either just starting out and so didn’t need to stop, or so late in the trip that I just wanted to get home.
It came to my attention that there might be more to Hartford a little over a year ago. One of my favorite urbanist blogs, CityLab, posted an article Go To … Hartford, Young Man?, in which Sam Sturgis explains why Hartford is so awesome. He focuses on the job market for Millennials, which has generally been bad in the post-recession economy, with a remarkable exception:
When you dig into the numbers, the Hartford, Connecticut, metro area emerges, beaconlike, in the darkness: It has become one of the most lucrative job markets for young Americans.
Since then, I have kept noticing the Hartford metro area make top-ten lists put together by the prolific city-booster, Richard Florida. A small sampling:
- The Winners and Losers of Economic Clustering – Hartford is a “winner,” ranking #10 nationally for “Creative Class” clustering.
- Where US Brainpower Tends to Cluster – Hartford is listed at #5 for metro areas with the highest proportion of residents with graduate/professional degrees.
- The Best US Metros for Recent College Grads Looking for Work –Hartford is #8 on the top ten list of best places for recent college grads looking for work.
- America’s Most Post-Industrial Metros – Hartford is #11 on the list of metros with more service-sector jobs than manufacturing jobs. Not necessarily good or bad, but still surprising to appear top-ranked on a national list.
- The US Cities Where the Poor Are Most Segregated from Everyone Else – OK, this one isn’t really a great list to be on; Hartford ranks #2 among large metros for income segregation. It’s sandwiched between Milwaukee (#1) and Philadelphia (#3).
A few years ago, I took a day trip to Hartford with my wife to check out the Mark Twain House. I remember the city not making much of an impression on me (though the Mark Twain House is awesome, and I’m disappointed I didn’t get to make the Harriet Beecher Stowe House as well). It was rainy, and cold, and we didn’t really want to go out and explore in that muck.
Now, I feel like I need to give Hartford another go. It is the capital of Connecticut after all, and the third largest city in New England. And all of those top ten lists have convinced me, Hartford is not a “drive-through” kind of city. At least probably not.