Sliced by Interstate 95, Bridgeport is a diverse city, with Hispanics and African-Americans accounting for two-thirds of the population. It is part of one of the richest counties (Fairfield) in the country, but also ranks as one of the nation’s 10 poorest cities, with nearly one in four residents living below the poverty line.
With 24 miles of coastline and a deep harbor, Bridgeport walked tall in the 19th century as an industrial giant and, in 1875, had a legendary circus showman for a mayor in P.T. Barnum. The city touted itself as the “arsenal of democracy” for the rifles and ammunition that poured from its factories; at its peak during World War II, the 600-acre Remington Arms complex employed 30,000 workers. But in a trend that hit the city hard over several decades, companies began closing factories and relocating jobs to lower-cost parts of the country.
Today, a majority of the Remington land remains tainted, including a 25-acre lake that still holds remnants of old bullets and other explosives. But sections of the site are slated for rehabilitation. General Electric Corp.—which had a factory on a parcel of Remington land—cleaned up 17 acres and gave it to the city to build a new high school. DuPont Corp., which bought the arms-maker in 1980, has reclaimed another 25 acres for the city to use as a new rail station. The school and rail station will help revitalize the city’s East End.
To the southwest, an underutilized industrial district has been transformed into Eco-Technology Park, home to a growing number of companies on the cutting edge of the green economy. The vast footprint of a former electric plant is now home to four new businesses, including a $70-million fuel cell power-generating facility—the country’s largest—that produces enough electricity for one-third of Bridgeport’s homes. The city has approved a plan for a private company to build a solar-panel farm on a former landfill. Other tenants include a company that turns cooking grease into biofuel, a manufacturer of paving products developed from old tires and a recycler that breaks apart old mattresses into reusable materials.
“These are the types of industries that not only are where the growth is likely to occur in our nation, but also the types of industries that will help to change the perception of Bridgeport from a gritty, post-industrial city to one that’s very much in tune with the 21st-century economy,” Kooris says.
Innovative green strategies even extend to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which is located within the boundaries of the Eco-Technology district and next door to the P.T. Barnum public housing complex. Rather than continue to send hundreds of trucks to New Haven to dispose of waste, Bridgeport is working with a Canadian company to develop a new facility adjacent to the plant that will use a so-called digester to break down sewage sludge, producing heat and energy in the process. When public housing residents initially expressed skepticism, the city, residents and other partners together arrived at a solution that would be beneficial to everyone: new greenhouses would be established, running on the heat generated from the digester, to provide fresh produce and potential job opportunities for residents.
The city hopes the project will help the environment, while also bringing social and economic benefits to low-income neighbors, thus giving them a shot at better health outcomes.
Kate Kelly, project director for the PT Partners initiative, says this is the type of collaborative thinking that drives growth in a positive way.
“It finds and feeds the self-interests of everyone at the negotiating table.”