Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles

With a population of 147,000 people, 30,000 jobs and the highest population density of all Connecticut cities, Bridgeport is a bustling urban community and one of the major centers of activity in the Northeast. The city accommodates many land uses within a relatively compact 16 square mile area. Approximately one-third (32%) of Bridgeport is comprised of residential areas and 25% is covered by parks or water bodies (including the Long Island Sound). The city’s transportation network (streets, highways, and railroads) occupies 18% of the city while commercial, industrial, and institutional uses occupy 15% of the city’s land.

These land uses, and the interface between them, must be carefully managed and balanced for Bridgeport to become a more livable city. This means ensuring that residential neighborhoods have adequate access to goods, services, and municipal facilities while protecting those neighborhoods from traffic and industry. At the same time, the city’s Downtown, commercial corridors and neighborhood centers must be accessible by car and transit while remaining safe and attractive places for walking and bicycling.

In addition to the Downtown, the city has miles of commercial corridors where commercial development such as offices, stores, and restaurants are mixed with residences. It is important to promote the continued development of the Downtown and neighborhood centers, while also ensuring convenient connectivity between these areas. Ensuring that zoning regulations allow for a healthy mix of uses and increased walkability is one way that cities across the country are enhancing livability and connectivity.

In seeking to be a more livable city, Bridgeport should also follow the best practices of other cities working towards the improvement of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and access to transit. Within Connecticut, cities such as Hartford and New Haven have instituted “Complete Streets” policies that seek to balance the use of streets by improving access for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. This can greatly improve access to goods, services, jobs and recreation for those who don’t have a personal vehicle, as it makes biking or walking safer and more pleasant.

Increasing transportation options beyond automobiles also enhances sustainability, a concept that is tied closely to livability. As buildings are the largest urban contributor to energy consumption, the City should also support initiatives that enhance residential energy efficiency as well as incentivize green building techniques. Bridgeport should also expand the city’s urban forest as a way to clean the air, provide natural cooling in the warm months and make the city a more beautiful place to live.

Another important livability challenge is caused by the combination of a steady increase in population that has elevated the demand for housing of all kinds and a relative lack of new housing construction. Bridgeport needs to respond to this need for more housing by supporting new construction, while protecting the existing affordable housing stock from deterioration. Strategies such as infill development and the adaptive reuse of historic properties are means by which the city can respond to residential demand.

Bridgeport has a rich history as an industrial and financial center in Connecticut. The city’s heavy manufacturing industry and the financial services tied to that industry have, however, declined precipitously from their WWII era peak. This has resulted in a decline in jobs that has continued through today, as employment contracted from 61,750 jobs in 1990 to 42,178 in 2017. To achieve a robust economy that works for all residents, Bridgeport must work to encourage job creation at all wage levels and throughout the city.

Thanks to the success of anchor institutions in the healthcare sector – Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center – as well as higher education – the University of Bridgeport and Housatonic Community College – Bridgeport has experienced employment growth in sectors such as health care and social assistance, education, and general services over the past decade. Of these, health care and social assistance is the largest employment sector with 12,875 jobs in 2017, comprising 30% of jobs in Bridgeport.

While jobs created in these sectors are valuable, they tend to generate relatively lower wage jobs when compared to those in the sectors that have contracted the most since 2005, including manufacturing, government and utility jobs. Though heavy manufacturing is squarely in Bridgeport’s past, the existing infrastructure and uniquely large plots of comparatively inexpensive land left behind are uniquely suited to new-economy industries, including advanced manufacturing, maker spaces, innovation centers and live/work studios that can house a variety of commercial and creative users.

The presence of vibrant trade and technology education programs in Bridgeport, from GED to Ph.D level, presents an opportunity to create pipelines from these knowledge centers to local employment in innovative industries. Strengthening and expanding these and other educational programs and institutions will also be necessary to ensure that more Bridgeport residents can be part of a skilled labor force, capable of finding good paying jobs and of driving the success of Bridgeport businesses.

The City has been actively working on economic development for decades and has undertaken many development initiatives since the last comprehensive plan update in 2008. One major focus has been redeveloping the Downtown as a dense, mixed-use, Transit Oriented District through rezoning and tax incentives. These efforts have resulted in the attraction of new businesses and an increase in the residential population of Downtown by approximately 40% solely through the redevelopment of historic buildings as residential properties.

Bridgeport is a city of neighborhoods, many of which have historically supported thriving commercial corridors and centers, connected to each other and the Downtown by arterial streets and local bridges. As economic activity in the city slowed, so too did the neighborhood commercial districts. This has left Bridgeporters wanting for businesses that support their daily needs as well as an occasional short shopping trip, or access to a job that one can walk to. As the Downtown moves towards sustaining its growth without City assistance, Bridgeport should turn towards stimulating revitalization throughout the neighborhoods that influence and sustain the lifestyles of most of its nearly 147,000 residents.

Another primary focus area for redevelopment is the revitalization of the city’s waterfront. Once a bustling working waterfront covered with piers, rail spurs and factories, the waterfront is currently made up of the largest consistently low-value swath of properties in Bridgeport. Most of the waterfront is underutilized and underdeveloped, which presents both challenges and great opportunities. There is more to be gained from redevelopment along the waterfront than in any other section of the city, as vacant parcels and outdated buildings can be transformed into public assets that drive adjacent development, or mixed-use developments attracting value by bringing businesses, residents and visitors to Bridgeport.

The goals and strategies in the following chapter outline a plan that the City government and the businesses, institutions, schools and non-profits can refer to as a guide for developing a robust economy in Bridgeport.

Equity is fairness, while equality suggests sameness. The presence of equity in a city can be identified by the provision of, and access to, services and resources that are just and fair. Equity provides opportunities for all people to grow and be secure throughout their lives.

The City of Bridgeport, like many urban centers, struggles with equity issues. Two of the largest equity challenges faced by Bridgeporters are low incomes and a high rate of poverty. Bridgeport’s median household income of $43,137 is less than half of that of Fairfield County which has a median household income of $90,123. Bridgeport’s poverty rate is 22.1% compared to 8.6% in Fairfield County. As Bridgeport is situated in one of the more expensive regions of the country, and among some of the wealthiest towns in the state, access to the goods and services that ensure a decent quality of life can be difficult to attain.

This lack of resources presents a challenge to Bridgeport residents as many struggle to ensure that their basic needs are met. Based on an analysis of incomes and housing costs, 54% of Bridgeport residents are cost burdened by housing expenses, meaning that their housing costs are more than 30% of their incomes. Additionally, a Connecticut Food Bank analysis found that approximately 23% of Bridgeport residents were food insecure, or regularly unable to meet their own or their family’s need for food due to a lack of funds. Enhancing opportunities to thrive economically is essential to improving overall quality of life in Bridgeport, and the City must work on strategies to match Bridgeport residents with higher paying jobs, both through assisting residents in obtaining skills and education, and by spurring on the generation of more local jobs.

At the same time, the cost of goods and services - especially the most basic necessity, housing - is another side of the problem. To ease the housing cost burden, the City must focus on incentivizing an increase in the supply of housing stock at all price points and of all types, particularly as its population is projected to continue increasing. Other resources that have an especially large impact on quality of life, such as healthcare and recreation opportunities, must be made accessible to Bridgeporters of all ages, capabilities and income levels. Often this means that the City must provide free and low-cost amenities, such as social activities in public libraries, or access to parks and playing fields which are within walking distance from homes.

Additionally, the City must provide pathways for residents to improve their quality of life through their own initiative. A high-quality public-school system that trains the city’s youth for a variety of jobs and career paths is one essential service that must remain a focus. Although Bridgeport schools have higher than average numbers of students that require additional services – due to family stresses, English being a second language or special education requirements – its per pupil expenditures are 15% less than the Connecticut average, inadequate to truly meet student need. To keep up with changing job trends, educational opportunities for adults who are seeking a new career are also necessary. As Bridgeport has lost higher paying manufacturing jobs it has gained lower paying service jobs. Preparing the labor force at all ages for higher paying jobs is necessary to increase incomes and lower poverty rates.

Another pathway for residents to improve quality of life is through participating in governmental decision- making processes to increase the likelihood that services will meet their needs. By taking initiative and utilizing advancements in technology, the City can ensure that the government is accessible, transparent and responsive to the needs of all residents, especially those who are often left out like non-English speakers, people with disabilities or non-citizens. Bridgeport is the most ethnically and racially diverse community in the state, with a population that is 39% Hispanic, 33% black, 22% white and 18.4% of residents that are not US citizens. This diversity is one of Bridgeport’s greatest assets, creating a vibrant community full of entrepreneurs, artists and global cuisines. The abundance of cultural and linguistic diversity – 48% of residents speak a non-English language at home, the highest percentage of any Connecticut city – also means that the City government and other service providers must take extra care to provide information and services in various languages and with cultural competency.

As with housing and food access, it is essential that all Bridgeporters feel safe and secure as they go about their daily lives. Feeling a level of trust with public safety officials is one part of security that the City can work to enhance. Other services like blight prevention and removal, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers and fair housing support must also be available and easily accessible to all who may need them. This chapter will lay out goals and strategies to ensure that all city residents will have an opportunity to take advantage of all that Bridgeport and the region have to offer to live happy and healthy lives.

The protection and improvement of community health is one of the paramount concerns of City government. A community’s health is affected by, and can be measured by, many factors. These include rates of disease and chronic illness, lifestyle factors such as smoking and drug use, sources of chronic stress such as noise or crime, obesity, fitness and poverty levels, air and water quality, access to healthy foods and nature, and access to health care.

The City of Bridgeport’s Health and Social Services Department is the City’s lead agency for addressing the community’s public health. In addition to this department, Bridgeport also has several health care resources available to its residents. These include hospitals such as Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center and health centers and clinics such as St. Vincent’s Family Health Center, Americares Free Clinic, Optimus Health Center, and Southwest Community Health Center.

Despite the abundance of healthcare and social service options for all populations and at most price points, there is often a lack of information about their availability amongst those who need them. It should be a priority of both the City and service providers to work together to improve awareness of all the resources that are available in the city and the region. Coordination between healthcare providers, social service providers and the City’s Health Department is also important to ensure that the services being provided meet the needs of the community, and to avoid the duplication of efforts that can lead to wasted resources in an economic environment that already requires operating at thin margins.

While the availability of curative care and services to heal or ease suffering is important, it is arguably an even more pressing public health challenge to work towards preventative action that can reduce the occurrence of disease and discomfort. Some initiatives that can reduce the occurrence of public health challenges are reactive and designed to deal with existing crises. Some examples that are relevant to Bridgeport are initiatives to reduce substance abuse by children and young adults, reduce the occurrence of STDs or unplanned teen pregnancies, or improve access to nutritional food.

Other actions that must be taken to ensure and improve public health address broader environmental factors that have a correlation to the prevalence of diseases and disorders that complicate lives and lead to health struggles that severely constrain one’s ability to enjoy a high quality of life. In a city crisscrossed with congested highways, built on heritage industries that caused pollution and dealing with intractable social challenges (such as poverty, inequality and social exclusion), it is no small task to reduce, and work towards eliminating, these environmental determinants of ill-health.

Despite the complexity, the City must continue to work towards reducing air pollution including particulate matter, improving water quality and cleaning up heritage industrial sites and brownfields so that development with positive community impacts can take their place. Other sometimes overlooked environmental health determinants, like the prevalence of trash strewn about a street or abandoned lot, blighted buildings, bulk trash dumping and even noise pollution must also be considered urgent matters of public health, regardless of which branch of the City might be responsible for reducing or eliminating them. To take this idea further, the City must commit to considering health impacts in all decision-making processes that lead to policy creation, in consultation with the Department of Health and Social Services.

To become a healthy community, Bridgeport organizations, both private and public, must work together to focus their limited resources, promote their services and prevent the development of environmental determinants of disease and poor health wherever possible. While urban centers like Bridgeport face many challenges in creating a community that can be characterized by the prevalence of good health, Bridgeport is especially lucky to have many organizations and good-hearted health professionals working to make this vision a reality.

To become a healthy community, Bridgeport organizations, both private and public, must work together to focus their limited resources, promote their services and prevent the development of environmental determinants of disease and poor health wherever possible. While urban centers like Bridgeport face many challenges in creating a community that can be characterized by the prevalence of good health, Bridgeport is especially lucky to have many organizations and good-hearted health professionals working to make this vision a reality.

To become a healthy community, Bridgeport organizations, both private and public, must work together to focus their limited resources, promote their services and prevent the development of environmental determinants of disease and poor health wherever possible. While urban centers like Bridgeport face many challenges in creating a community that can be characterized by the prevalence of good health, Bridgeport is especially lucky to have many organizations and good-hearted health professionals working to make this vision a reality.

While much of the city’s natural environment has been weakened or eliminated by industry and development over the last century, that which remains provides a myriad of critical benefits to the city. The urban tree canopy that covers 27% of the city’s area cleans the air of pollution, prevents erosion and silt runoff, and cools the city by providing shade for a home or individual on a hot day. More broadly, abundant trees can reduce the citywide rise in temperature that can occur due to the heat island effect.

As a growing city, conservation and the protection of nature should be a priority for Bridgeport. Even though it is largely built-out, the city is presented with opportunities to protect and enhance open space and natural resources. Significant areas, such as the Remington Woods/Lake Success property, present the city with a chance to increase its publicly accessible open space and protected natural habitat, while also generating opportunities for economic development.

Bridgeport’s legacy as the Park City speaks to the value that the City and its residents place on its parks and open space. Signature parks such as Beardsley and Seaside Parks are known throughout the region and have a rich history as Frederick Law Olmsted designed parks. The city is home to many local parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, urban gardens, and natural areas such as Pleasure Beach. However, the condition of these resources varies throughout the city and continued investment will be required to maintain these assets.

Bridgeport’s position as the most-dense and highly populated city in the state allows it to play an important role in reducing the impacts of carbon emissions on climate change, as well as in reducing the amount of waste that is generated and put into the environment. Over the past decade, Bridgeport has actively pursued ecologically friendly industrial businesses as well as green energy generation facilities. It should continue to expand on these industries to solidify its identity as a green industry leader in the region. The presence of these businesses in the city can generate additional benefits, like the capture and repurposing of dissipated energy into district heating and cooling networks.

Bridgeport should also continue to expand programs that incentivize sustainability measures in new development and work with businesses to implement sustainability practices to reduce the energy demand generated by buildings throughout the city, which represents the largest source of carbon emissions both locally and across the globe.

As Bridgeport does its part to slow and, hopefully, reverse the effects of climate change caused by human activity, it must also prepare for the potential impacts of increased frequency and intensity of coastal flooding and other negative impacts of climate change. As a shoreline community that has been heavily impacted by coastal storms in the recent past, Bridgeporters are well aware of the hazards that flooding, high winds and heavy waves pose to their homes, businesses and infrastructure. The City must continue to support the Resilient Bridgeport projects in the South End, while expanding its focus to increasing resiliency across all neighborhoods that face either coastal or inland flood risks. It is also important to consider the impacts of increased risks of drought, heat waves and torrential rains on the community.

The goals and strategies that follow in this chapter attempt to address the major challenges that Bridgeport’s relationship with the natural environment presents. It addresses ways to better integrate urban life with the living environment, the importance of preserving and expanding a high-quality parks and open space system and seizing on the opportunity to have a positive local impact on global climate change trends by embracing sustainability, while continuing to enhance protections from environmental hazards.

With approximately 147,000 residents, Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut and has a significant economic, educational, governmental, and institutional presence in southwestern Connecticut. Bridgeport is a vital urban center within the Northeast corridor, a series of towns and cities that stride Interstate 95 and the Amtrak rail line between Washington D.C. and Boston. With its proximity to New York and New Jersey, Bridgeport is within the Tri-State Metropolitan Region, and partly functions as a satellite region of New York City. In addition to I-95 and Amtrak, Bridgeport is connected to the Tri-State region via Metro North, interstate buses, the Merritt Parkway, and the Port Jefferson Ferry. These assets contribute to an infrastructure portfolio that makes Bridgeport a transportation hub for surrounding communities.

With an objectively important position in the state and region as a transit hub, service provider, job creator and population center, Bridgeport has an opportunity to grow in its role as a regional leader. The City should embrace its size and importance by convening regional leaders to address common issues shared with large Connecticut cities and the municipalities in Greater Bridgeport. By working together with those that share the same challenges, Bridgeport can lead in the creation of regional or urban policy agendas, with the goal of achieving better outcomes for all. Bridgeport also has unique opportunities as a city that was once known throughout the world as a center of industry. The space and infrastructure demand to meet such productivity are high, and with the decline of industry in Bridgeport and the Northeast, its globally significant manufacturing industry has transformed into a nearly unparalleled amount of large vacant parcels of land that are adjacent or within .5 mile of road, rail, air and land infrastructure that can easily plug into national and international transportation networks. This industrial past has also left Bridgeport with an underdeveloped waterfront that is unique in the state in terms of the potential to redevelop due to the relatively low value of waterfront land currently.

With these and other assets, there is an opportunity to think regionally and act locally, undertaking initiatives that will increase the city’s standing in the region, while benefiting its tax payers and residents. For example, the City can improve its transportation infrastructure to attract residents and visitors by increasing the convenience of travel to or from jobs in other regional hubs like Stamford, New Haven and New York City. The City should also consider regional trends when developing housing policies, preparing for a potential influx of young professionals, families and creatives priced out of the New York metro-area and other Connecticut cities. Other local initiatives with regional impact could be supporting the arts to embrace and strengthen our role as a hub for creativity and redeveloping the waterfront with an eye towards the potential to create a recreational attraction unique in the Northeast.

Finally, as a regional center there are many challenges and opportunities that are shared between Bridgeport and other municipalities. As a coastal city, Bridgeport shares challenges presented by sea level rise

and coastal storms with the rest of the shoreline. As such, actions taken to improve coastal resiliency in Bridgeport will impact the resiliency of the region at large and should be coordinated through regional efforts. Other regional systems, like food systems and environmental systems, are directly impacted by decisions made in Bridgeport, and so its role within these systems, and often its potential to help improve these systems, should be considered when making policy decisions.

By embracing its size and prominence, driving coordinated policy, taking advantage of broader trends and intentionally working with other towns and cities, Bridgeport has an opportunity to fully embrace its role as a regional center.