5 Reasons Why New Haven is the Greatest City in America

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After living in New Haven for 20 years, I can confirm that this is the greatest city in America (and possibly the world). That’s right. You can keep your grubby New York and your smoggy Los Angeles, your Chi-towns and your Big Easies. I know for a fact that New Haven has them all beat.

It’s weird Woody Allen never shows this part of New York.
Source: Jim Pennucci, CC BY 2.0

Sure, we have our Connecticut taxes and our New England weather and the occasional bit of crime. And, yes, a recent Conde Nast poll ranked us the 7th unfriendliest city in the world – but that’s only because they’re jealous. Those jerks.

So, without further ado, here’s just five of the infinite number of reasons why New Haven is the greatest city in America:

1. The pizza

Everyone saw this coming, so let’s get it out of the way. New Haven is not only home to the world’s best pizza, it’s also the birthplace of pizza in America (don’t cite me on that). From the overrated Pepe’s to the underrated Kitchen Zinc, from the very best (Modern, Bar) to the very worst (I think we have a Domino’s somewhere), no other city does pizza like New Haven does pizza. I actually have a mathematical theory that the quality of pizza in any given place is directly proportional to its distance from New Haven.

That’s why you can find pretty decent pizza in New York, while Kansas remains a Pizza Hut wasteland. Meanwhile, those of us living in New Haven are never more than a stone’s throw from the best slice you can imagine.

And if pizza isn’t your thing, never fear. We also invented the hamburger (you’re welcome), and have sushi, falafel, pasta, burritos, grilled cheese, ramen, and ice cream pretty much on lock.

2. The music scene

When you think about it, New Haven is in a difficult spot, concert-wise. With Boston two hours above us and NYC two hours below, musicians are often tempted to stop in one or the other and call Connecticut a wash.

Yet despite this clear disadvantage, New Haven has managed to dominate on the music front again and again. The recently reopened College Street Music Hall regularly draws big names, while for little to no money, you can catch a local band playing at Koffee? or Cafe 9 or Firehouse 12 almost any night of the week.

Cafe Nine
This show probably cost $3.

And then there’s Toad’s Place. Though the venue has seen better days, it’s still a landmark, a place where for $15, you might catch the next big thing or revisit an old favorite. Someday, I’ll get to tell my kids that I paid $20 to stand 10 feet from Kendrick Lamar, one of the greatest rappers of all time, right before good kid, m.A.A.d city went platinum, just like how my stepdad tells me about the time he caught The Rolling Stones giving a surprise concert there. You never know quite what you’re going to get with Toad’s, and that’s the beauty of it.

Toad's Place List of Bands
We have no idea how they got all these people to play, either.
Source: Creative Commons

3. The scenery

Some come to New Haven for the pizza or the music – others come to see “the most beautiful street in America.” At least, that’s what Mark Twain and Charles Dickens both called it. I prefer “one of many beautiful street in the most beautiful city in America.” Hillhouse Avenue, the street in question, exceedingly lovely, but it’s not alone.

Hillhouse Avenue
Source: Yale News

You like awe-inspiring architecture? Swing by almost any Yale building (I recommend Harkness Tower for those fans of Gothic romance) or step into the New Haven Free Public Library. Prefer paintings to stonework? Head over to the Yale Art Gallery, the Center for British Art, the Knights of Columbus Museum, or just take a walk downtown to catch some street murals.

Harkness Tower
It’s hard to deny its beauty.

Or does your ideal form of beauty lie in nature? If so, head on over to Edgerton Park for a dose of English countryside, take a hike down the dappled trails of West Rock Ridge, or simply enjoy one of the bazillion trees that line our sidewalks. Honestly, I’m not sure why other cities decided to reduce their tree population to a couple of spindly weeds growing behind spiked fences, but New Haven knows better than that. This city is green.

West Rock
West Rock Ridge State Park is an underrated gem.

4. The free stuff

Okay, so you may not be handed a swag bag upon entering the city limits, but you’ll never run out of stuff to do for (or close to) free. Feel like some outdoor entertainment? Grab a blanket and head over to the New Haven Green to catch some music or a movie.

Arts and Ideas Festival
The Arts and Ideas Festival in New Haven, beginning in June! Photo from artidea.org

Want something a little more high-minded? Catch the New Haven Documentary Film Festival or attend a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. Couldn’t get enough of the art galleries? Good thing they’re free. Other options include enjoying the salty breeze over at Lighthouse Point Park (parking is free for New Haven residents; a ride on the antique carousel will run you a staggering 50 cents, however), strolling through the Wooster Square Farmer’s Market, or catching a performance at the nearby Best Video (technically, this is in Hamden, but it’s one of the few places that you can still go to rent a movie and it’s awesome and it’s only a hop and a skip over the city line).

On top of all this, Yale has about a hundred free events during any given week, many of them open to the public. Once, on a whim, I went to see a master’s student from the School of Music give his qualifying recital and spent the next TWO hours completely enraptured. Another week, I stopped by the Yale Farm’s “knead 2 know” series, where I was literally fed handmade pizza topped with farm fresh ingredients. That’s right. Even the free stuff comes with a side of pizza in New Haven.

5. The scale

New Haven is the Baby Bear of cities – not too big or too small, but just right. This may seem like a strange perk, but hear me out. The truly big cities of America – your New Yorks and Houstons and Philadelphias – are TOO big. It takes forever to get your bearings, you’ll spend 3 hours trying to decide on a restaurant, and, at the end of the day, you still have to contend with the existential dread of just being one person in a million.

Toronto
You can almost smell this picture.
Source: Creative Commons

Then, there’s the other side of the scale – those glorified suburbs that are just masquerading as cities. New Haven falls somewhere in the middle of these. It has all the big-city benefits (the culture, the walkability, the great food, the liberal policies) without a lot of the same drawbacks (the belching subway grates, the standstill traffic, the outrageous prices, the crushing anonymity).

It’s a place you can wrap your head around without ever feeling like there’s nothing new to discover. It’s small enough to be kind and big enough to be open-minded. I actually couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

And have I mentioned the pizza?

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Jordanna lives in East Rock with two cats, one dog, one fiance, and a revolving door of foster kittens. She enjoys loitering in coffee shops, eating pizza on the green, and bragging about New Haven to anyone who will listen. In addition to working at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, she is an accomplished bookstore browser, movie binger, and scooter rider.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I live in New Haven for 20 years been gone now 30 years I miss New Haven all the time such a great city to live in the best I love Yale the green all the great restaurants Planing to go this summer

  2. Nice piece! I’m all about celebrating the Feast of New Haven. Just wrote an article for Seasons of New Haven about local barbecue… it’s so good right now (have you tried Ricky D’s?) that I suspect it’s soon going to become a top destination food. Behind pizza, of course.

  3. New Haven native and FES grad here. Saw this on Facebook on a friend’s feed and immediately shared it. Then I opened the article and read it.

    Got to the part where you wrote “overrated Pepe’s”.

    Deleted my Facebook post immediately.

    (Liked the rest of it, though)

  4. Great write up! I have been living and working in New Haven for three years as a Real Estate Agent. Lived in CT most of my life and can count on one hand the number of times I had gone to New Haven. So glad that my journey brought me here. I am still learning and exploring this under rated city and wondering when it won’t be such a secret anymore.

  5. I live in new have for 51 and love it, I could move and become a snob, that’s not me. Love the different cultures, the weather is perfect, and we are situated perfectly 95/91 Amtrak/Metro North, beaches, shopping, restaurants, etc. Taxes is everywhere, it balances out we don’t have to drive far. I LOVE NEW HAVEN

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