HARTFORD, Conn. This city of 123,000 is known derisively as “America’s File Cabinet” for the many record-heavy insurance companies that make their home here, a tag that has long been a sore point among civic fathers and more recently mothers. “If you want excitement, go to Worcester,” says Al Crenolin, a past president of the local Chamber of Commerce of the fourth largest city in Connecticut, referring to the second largest city in Massachusetts. “There you’ll find all the crime and poverty we so sorely need to be considered world-class,” he adds, his tongue planted deeply in his cheek.
But a new generation of civic leaders, more attuned to “Steampunk” and other current cultural trends that revere the unfashionable past rather than rejecting it, say they want to capitalize on the capital city’s legacy as a grey and boring burg by turning the “file cabinet” insult into a marketing campaign. “File cabinets are underrated,” says Chloe Benson, a public relations professional hired to spruce up the image of “The Insurance Capital of the World.” “If you have files,” she notes, “there is no better place to put them.”
The campaign to elevate Hartford’s profile will include an infrastructure upgrade as spider plants will be added atop the major office buildings in town, lending them an air of resemblance to actual filing cabinets. “Other towns like Boston put in so-called ‘greenways’,” says Crinolin in disgust. “You have to mow them all the time, but with a spider plant you just ask your roommate to take care of it when you’re out of town.”
The city’s water supply will be shifted from outlying reservoirs to a giant water cooler, which will have a revolving restaurant on top with unlimited free refills of water. “We might set up a wi-fi tower in the shape of a wire ‘in/out basket’,” muses Benson. “Do you think that’s gilding the lily?”
Despite its stodgy image Hartford has been home to leading American literary figures including Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and poet Wallace Stevens, who worked at an insurance company here. “Stevens was a crank, and his poetry is pretty much incomprehensible,” says Crinolin with a note of chagrin in his voice. “Wouldn’t you rather hear about Tebucky Jones?”