Every year on Columbus Day weekend, Hartford hosts a marathon. Can you guess how I know this? They probably advertise, right? Maybe there’s some word of mouth buzz? How about social media? Sadly, the answer is no to all of those. The way people in the Greater Hartford Area learn about the Hartford Marathon is through traffic alerts. All this week, the highway signs that normally tell about traffic conditions (which are bizarrely often wrong, but that’s a different topic) had warnings about all of the streets that would be closed due to the marathon. The message was not, “Hey everyone, we have a great event happening. Come on down and enjoy. Oh, and stay and check out some of the other things going on and eat at one of our fine restaurants.” The clear message was, “Whatever you do this weekend, do not come to Hartford. Traffic will be a nightmare and don’t even get me started on parking.”
This isn’t unusual for Hartford. If anything, the marathon is better publicized than most of the events in Hartford. Most of the events do not disrupt traffic, so they don’t even get the benefit of signs on the highway. I usually find out about events the day after they occur. That’s when I’ll see a random post on social media along the lines of, “Had a great time at the (name of event here) yesterday. Too bad there wasn’t a bigger crowd.”
There are only three exceptions to this: First Night (the New Year’s Eve celebration), Riverfest (The Fourth of July celebration) and the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz. Of course, Riverfest was cancelled this year. They said they didn’t have the money to pay the fire fighters and police that would be necessary. The cancellation got plenty of publicity. Probably more than the active event gets most years. So, there are two exceptions, even though things are happening in Hartford all the time.
I have a better sense of what’s going on in Boston, New York and New Haven than Hartford even though I live five minutes from Hartford. And that’s a shame, because Hartford really has a lot to offer. That’s the lesson here. If Hartford simply acted like they wanted people to enjoy the city, people would enjoy the city. It wouldn’t take much, they just have to let people know what is happening before it happens. If they are feeling extra ambitious, they could publicly post information like directions to the event and parking info. It would be nice if Hartford wanted to be liked as much as many of us want to like it.