(c) Connecticut Explored, Summer, 2023
The team at Connecticut Explored takes pride in our magazine’s diverse content, not only covering a broad array of subjects but also including contributions by artists and art historians in addition to more traditional historians. We try to make sure our content is factually correct and presented in a thoughtful manner. We do, however, sometimes make mistakes, and we need to acknowledge them when we do.
Our presentation of Pablo Delano’s article “Topsy in the Tropics” (Spring 2023) about the artist’s exhibit critiquing colonialism in Puerto Rico featured two such missteps. First, Delano meant the article’s title “Topsy in the Tropics” to be ironic; in his words, it is “a pointed reference to the transference of U.S. racist thinking to Puerto Rico. There is nothing festive or fun about that.” Our choice of bright, multi-colored headline text evokes stereotypical depictions of Puerto Rico as a festive, carefree tourist destination, thus undercutting the message of the article.
Further, the illustration of “Topsy,” the dancing girl, is a racist and demeaning caricature. Our placement of the illustration and our short caption did not adequately explain that it was originally created to amuse white readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The image might better have been placed near the excerpt from Uncle Sam’s Island Possessions at the top of the article, where its context might have been clearer. Our placement reinforced the original intention of the image’s creator rather than pointing out its degrading nature.
We have corrected these errors on our website’s configuration of the Spring issue and in the copy that can be found in EBSCO online databases. We have included the fuller captions originally provided by the author, and we invite readers to look at the redesign at ctexplored.org/game-changer-topsy-in-the-tropics/.
Publisher, Connecticut Explored
In “The Rise of Exclusionary Zoning in Connecticut,” (Spring 2023) Jack Dougherty has a different point of view than the West Hartford residents who opposed Jacob Goldberg’s efforts to build the Kingswood Market in 1923, but his article is as biased and uninformed as those century-old NIMBYs.
Dougherty explains that the court quickly allowed Goldberg to build Kingswood Market. The residents who opposed him either got over themselves or were small in number, because the market endured for seven decades. Goldberg shouldn’t have faced ignorant and unfair opposition, but the author doesn’t provide data supporting his thesis that West Hartford’s zoning intentions were other than the quoted ones, to “bring ‘orderliness and efficiency’ to the town’s rapid growth with ‘an increase of health, comfort, and happiness for all people.’”
I moved from Frog Hollow, a “crowded tenement house” area in Hartford, to a house in the “B” section of West Hartford in the 1980s. The poor quality of housing in several Hartford neighborhoods has been an issue for more than a century. Dougherty is offended that West Hartford intended to “effectively prevent” such neighborhoods. Hartford razed impoverished neighborhoods, built housing projects, and then razed the projects. West Hartford avoided all that horrible disruption and expense with better planning and zoning.
Dougherty ignores environmental reasons for minimum lot size and maximum coverage and doesn’t tell us how much of West Hartford was served by municipal water and sewers in 1924. As land coverage increases, ground water quality decreases. Much of West Hartford has clay soil with poor drainage. You need a large lot if you have a well and septic system, especially with poor drainage. The alternative to large lots is cholera.
When authors publish interpretations of the past, we invite differences of opinion and dialogue about our work. The writer above criticizes my article “The Rise of Exclusionary Zoning in Connecticut” on several grounds, but his central assertion seems to be: “[Dougherty] doesn’t provide data supporting his thesis that West Hartford’s zoning intentions were other than the quoted ones, to bring ‘orderliness and efficiency’ to the town’s rapid growth with ‘an increase of health, comfort, and happiness for all people.’” According to his perspective, zoning advocates of the 1920s simply desired an orderly and efficient community for everyone.
But careful readers of history understand why we need to dig below the surface of people’s words and look more deeply at their actions within the context of their times. My article shows how the 1924 West Hartford Zoning report expressly sorted residents into economically segregated, homogeneous neighborhoods by inventing minimum-land rules to make it “uneconomic to build two-family houses” in A and B zones (nearly 85 percent of the town). Also, the report featured photos and captions to warn that “large apartment buildings are spreading farther west,” designed to stir up suburban anxieties about “undesirable” urban residents, during a period of intense anti-immigrant sentiments. Peeking below the surface of zoning, we clearly see more at work here than a simplistic desire to create an orderly and efficient community for all.
Need more evidence? See more interpretation and sources in my On The Line book-in-progress (OnTheLine.trincoll.edu) to understand how suburban leaders quickly embraced zoning during the 20th century as a legally defensible strategy to exclude residents on the basis of wealth – without directly referring to race, religion, or nationality – to achieve goals similar to government-backed discriminatory barriers, such as redlining and restrictive covenants. Draw your own conclusions.
In our list of donors to the Fund for Excellence in Publishing in the Spring 2023 issue, a contribution from Susan Lennon and Robert Merritt should have been listed in the $200- $499 range, not the $100-$199 range; Carey White’s name should have been listed with Olivia White in the $500-$999 column; Tedd Levy’s name was misspelled as “Ted Levy.” We regret these errors and are grateful for all of our donors’ support.