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CT is a land of steady habits, but no steady identity. Maybe that's OK?

An 1866 rendering of Hartford's iconic Colt Armory.
Library of Congress
An 1866 rendering of Hartford's iconic Colt Armory.

Connecticut’s reputation has long been up for debate. Are we part of the tri-state area or New England? The Nutmeg or Constitution State? Are we best-known for the Connecticut River or Long Island Sound? Pizza or preppiness?

Or is Connecticut its own special something in-between?

After the state's recent rebranding – twin campaigns that replaced the state’s “Still Revolutionary” slogan with “Find Your Vibe” and “Make It Here” – the debate has found its way back to the national stage. The New York Times and Cosmopolitan are among the national publications that have claimed to have discovered or rediscovered Connecticut.

A recent episode of Where We Live brought together a roundtable of Connecticut Public hosts to tackle the topic on our own turf. We asked our hosts, staff and listeners: How would you rebrand Connecticut? What defines the state? What do people get wrong, or right, about Connecticut?

Here were some of the takeaways from Connecticut Public staff:

McEnroe
Victoria Will
/
CT Public
McEnroe

Colin McEnroe on the power of pop culture tropes, and Connecticut’s legacy of ‘stuffiness’

How we show up on the national stage, I think, is heavily conditioned by how we're portrayed in the media. Whether it's on Gilmore Girls or old Katharine Hepburn movies, it varies a lot. But I think there is a consistent understanding that we are “stuffy.” And I mean, I don't think that's an entirely erroneous way to characterize us, although it's an oversimplification. Connecticut obviously is urban. It has a lot of manufacturing history. It's racially and ethnically at least somewhat diverse. So what you see in the media and then what you would experience as the reality is probably a little bit different.

The Land of Steady Habits” was a tag that was applied to Connecticut and really stayed for about 200 years – talk about a tourism campaign! It was initially meant to refer to the fact that the political class didn't change, but I think that went on to mean a lot of different things. If there's one true thing about Connecticut – that's maybe not universally true – I think it is kind of a resistance to change, which of course, bumps heads a little bit with “Still Revolutionary.”

Wolf
Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
Wolf

Chion Wolf suggests Connecticut capitalize on its innate ‘weird factor’

When I think about places like Austin, Portland, I think about that weird factor, right? And I think about how if Connecticut could really embrace and highlight its weirdness, that would be a net positive not only for the people who live here, but the people who want to spend their money here. If you think that Connecticut is kind of stuffy, and you think, oh, ‘I want to go somewhere weird with some cool culture and stuff.’ Well, how did the places that are weird get weird? The people who wanted it to, stayed there. So I advocate for defecting in place. Keep your weird here. Develop your weird here.
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Brown-Dean
Victoria Will
/
CT Public
Brown-Dean

Khalilah Brown-Dean focuses on Connecticut’s diversity

It's such a diverse state, not just in terms of demographics. But what you think of Connecticut in the Quiet Corner may not be what people in Willimantic think about Connecticut – and New Haven, of course. I'm partial to New Haven. But that idea of we can be our own, create our own and grow in the ways that we want to is something that is unique to Connecticut. 

When I first told people I was moving here, they said, “Oh, it's so dangerous. There's so much crime.’ And I came to visit, and I remember looking around like, “Really? Is this the place that you think I should be afraid of?” So that idea of extremes – of extreme wealth and extreme struggle – once you're here for a bit, you realize how that is really oversimplifying what we have here in Connecticut.

Doyon-Aitken
Tim Rasmussen
/
CT Public
Doyon-Aitken

Robyn Doyon-Aitken proposes celebrating Connecticut’s food scenes

If I were to rebrand our state, I would lean into what we're really good at. We are a pizza, beer, chocolate, donut state. We are a maple, honey, apples – really good bread – state. Sure, Boston and New York have some amazing seafood, but they don't have Renee Touponce cooking it. You know our food is something to be proud of when you consider that perhaps the world's most beloved chef lives here: Jacques Pepin lives in Connecticut. Dorie Greenspan, beloved cookbook author and baker, does too. She's amazing and she smells like cinnamon. She lives in two places: Connecticut and Paris. “Make It Here,” “Still Revolutionary,” the one about the “vibes”? I mean, they're okay. But, you know, they don't say anything about our lobster rolls or our many worthwhile food trails. You want people to get excited about Connecticut? Give them something to eat.

Henry Smith
Victoria Will
/
CT Public
Henry Smith

John Henry Smith says Connecticut enlivened his connection to nature

When I think of what stood out about Connecticut to me, the very first thing I think of is the constant proximity to woodlands and woodland creatures. Having spent most of my prior life in concrete and steel cathedrals like Detroit, New York, Miami and San Francisco, the pigeon, the sparrow and the squirrel were mostly the only wildlife visible to me on the daily.  Although I did have a high-noon type staredown with an iguana once in South Florida. 

Here in Connecticut, though, I regularly find myself just marveling at the breathtaking beauty of all those trees, especially in the fall. And as for wildlife, well, here in Connecticut, I have had reasonably close encounters with snakes, turtles, wild turkeys, black bears, raccoons, field mice, hawks, bunny rabbits, a muscular feline creature – I'm pretty sure was a bobcat – and a possum that appears to still be living under my front stoop. Without paying rent, I might add. Sure, a couple of these encounters have made me a tad nervous, but mostly I have found it extremely cool to get to see these wonderful animals up close.

Hajela
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Hajela

Ashad Hajela recently moved to New Haven and addresses  misconceptions about the Elm City

When I first moved to Connecticut, I was expecting to be surrounded by ostentatious wealth. I went to school in New York City and few people I met from Connecticut came from anywhere in North Stamford. I ended up moving to New Haven, which in my head was overshadowed by Yale. Through my reporting on criminal justice, I came to see Connecticut as a more complicated place with systemic and racial inequities like any other state in the country. I found the state to be more diverse than I expected it to be. With excellent access to South and Central American food, and excellent Asian and African specialty markets. I haven't even been here a year so I know there's a lot more to explore and experience.

Graziano
Victoria Will
/
CT Public
Graziano

Frankie Graziano reflects on Connecticut’s outsized impact

Connecticut, small, but mighty? 

We are more than just a pass through to New York and Boston. You know, you're heard about the U.S. Constitution. Yeah, well, our Constitution came first. Katharine Hepburn, Jackie Robinson and John Brown lived here. And our pizza is better than your pizza. Our pizza is better, but we're not better than anybody. And that's okay. We don't score a touchdown every time. We missed the Pats, and GE left us. 

Proximity is key in our state. The capital ain't too far from Putnam, Greenwich or Gales Ferry. Yeah, we'll task force you to death, but you gotta love CT. After all, we are small, but mighty.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Listen to the full episode: “Connecticut is the land of steady habits, but no steady identity”

Katie is a producer for Connecticut Public Radio's news-talk show 'Where We Live.' She has previously worked for CNN and News 8-WTNH.
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