As a neighborhood leader in Hartford’s Asylum Hill community, Jackie McKinney, 72, hears how cooped-up older residents have felt as they try to stay safe during the pandemic.
“They just want to get out of the house, and they don’t want to go far,” she says.
So, McKinney is hoping for a good turnout from the neighborhood’s older residents on Sunday, June 26, when the city will temporarily close down two of its busiest thoroughfares to cars and reopen them to people, allowing them to walk, bike, play or just take it all in from a lawn chair.
The closing of stretches of both Farmington Avenue and Park Street is part of a new AARP-backed initiative in the city called DominGO! Hartford. It’s modeled after the Open Streets Project, adopted by cities around the world.
On the fourth Sunday of each month, between June and September, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the city will close 4 to 6 miles of streets. The routes will span several neighborhoods and connect through downtown.
The program will showcase new neighborhoods every month and include free cultural and recreational programs, such as arts activities and fitness classes. McKinney, who chairs the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, envisions food trucks and a community mural painting for the inaugural Sunday, which she’s helping to plan.
“Maybe you invite your family down and it’s a place where your grandkids can run around for a while,” she says.
DominGO!Hartford encourages healthy modes of transportation, like walking and biking, while linking disconnected neighborhoods and helping people experience the city and one another in a new way.
“That’s so important as we emerge from another pandemic winter, providing an opportunity for people to meet each other outdoors in a safe manner,” says Nat Gale, Hartford’s director of capital planning and operations.
AARP Connecticut is providing financial support and helping to publicize the program as part of its broader effort to promote livable communities for residents of all ages, says Anna Doroghazi, its advocacy director.
The program creates a public space that allows people of any age or ability to explore at their own pace, without the worries of traffic, parking and cars.
“Everyone will have the opportunity to explore Hartford in a new way,” says Doroghazi, who hopes other areas will look to the city as a model. New Haven advocates are also interested in launching a program.
AARP Connecticut is also promoting other initiatives to make communities more accessible and friendlier for all residents.
Its Road to Livability presentations, given by AARP volunteers, teach people ways they can make their homes, cars and neighborhoods more suitable for independent living. To request a talk in your area, email [email protected] or call 860-548-3185.
Designing walkable communities will be a topic at AARP Connecticut’s fourth annual Livability Conference, on Tuesday, May 3, from 2 to 4 p.m., which is being held in conjunction with local universities. Email [email protected] to register.
Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, CT.