Situated in the middle of New Haven’s Nine Squares, The Green is the centerpiece of downtown New Haven. Surrounded by office buildings, restaurants, bars, and the towering Gothic buildings of Yale University, it is the central hub through which New Haven travels.
Even CT Transit uses New Haven Green as its central transit hub through which all routes pass through in the hub-and-spoke system.
However, the Green is also stuck in the past, beholden to rules about commerce and activities that prevent it from truly fulfilling its potential.
There are no vendors. No food trucks. No amusements. No shops.
During the cold, blustery months, there’s a giant, somewhat anemic-looking Christmas tree. During the summer, there’s free concerts attended by thousands of townspeople and visitors. Once in a great while, you even get a random New Haven Grand Prix/Pizza Fest.
Yet for the most part, the Green sits there, idly, in the center of the city. With its churches and flagpoles and not-quite-enough-benches.
You can, uh, throw frisbees. And you can sit down, if you’re into that kind of thing. Who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?
That’s pretty much it.
So why not do something with it?
It’s Time to Change the Rules
The Green isn’t technically owned by the city, but rather by a council of five private citizens called “The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven.” I don’t know if they meet in a secret building or what. Probably.
And one of their rules is that you can’t sell anything on the Green.
And you know what? It’s bullshit.
This isn’t Guilford. We don’t need to pretend we’re some quaint New England town where everybody lives on a boat and we all buy our wares at little boutiques that keep riff raff out and the Green is just for lookin’ at from our porches while we wear the very whitest of shorts.
There’s like two Dollar Stores right over there.
So let’s stop treating the Green like some sacred cow and open it up to a little bit of entertainment and commerce.
Bring on the Food Trucks
The Green is an absolutely ideal place for food trucks. There’s even those dirt roads where they could easily park — if we’d let them.
Rather than avoiding the green, this would drive even more traffic towards it, and let people explore types of cuisine that they may find unapproachable from a brick-and-mortar standpoint.
While we’re at it, how about a few picnic tables? The Town Green folks have gone a terrific job adding small tables and chairs to the outskirts and fountain area, but it’s really not even close to meeting the demand.
I understand there’s some fear that it’ll attract more ne’er-do-wells. But you know what? Some of them already sleep there, so let’s not pretend a lack of benches is going to help us out.
Perhaps we could designate a specific food truck zone and sitting area. So many of New Haven’s attractions are indoors, the city can feel like a ghost town in the summer. Encouraging people to enjoy the weather and sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere while eating from Ay Arepa or the Caseus Grilled Cheese Truck seems like a no-brainer to me. Heck, maybe they’ll even look up from their phones.
Bring Back the Ferris Wheel!
During the winter, the Green hosted a few random carnival-style rides right on the Green. And you know what? It was awesome.
There was a constant line of children waiting to ride — and it was the middle of winter.
Rather than a tiny little carny Ferris wheel, perhaps something a bit larger and less terrifying looking? Charge a nominal fee — bam, now you suddenly have a revenue stream. And I’m sure people would love to see New Haven from the heights of a Ferris wheel.
Why is it so sacrilegious? Look at Central Park.
Looking to New York for Inspiration
Is Central Park popular because it’s a bunch of trees and grass? Well, maybe — New Yorkers barely know what that looks like anymore.
But it’s also full of things to do. It has a few vendors, it has a restaurant, a little duck pond, a mini-castle, and a carousel. All kinds of little things which make it more attractive.
Meanwhile our Green has… a fountain. Come on. This is prime real estate! And it’s just sitting there, covered in teenagers without money!
Now, obviously, we can’t build a zoo there. (Though that would be hilarious.)
Obviously, we can’t emulate Central Park. We have neither the revenue or the space. But I think the idea is sound — a Green can be more than just an empty civic space, but a place to attract more visitors and engage the community.
Looking to the Past for Inspiration
Originally, New England towns used the central area of a village as a meeting place and hence why they were undeveloped.
But beyond a meeting house, it was also a market and a dumping ground for used goods. Now, obviously, we don’t want to turn the Green into a dump. But the idea of a market seems not only plausible, but historically respectable.
Perhaps a Farmer’s Market? Or better yet, a sort of outdoor flea market. Local vendors could show up every Saturday and/or Sunday, along the dirt paths so as to not trample the grass.
In New York, they often block off streets for street markets/festivals. I don’t think we even need to do that — we can just set up right on the dirt roads on the Green and bam, an outdoor market. I know I’d love to browse some local shops while enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.
I bet I’m not the only one.
I couldn’t agree more! What do we need to do to make it happen?
Farmers’ markets do meet up at the Green. Though, only in the summer due to the lovely and unpredictable weather New Haven has in the winter and spring.
In 2012, the Project for Public Spaces created a general plan for developing the Green as a more active city square, which can be viewed here:
I’m not entirely sure what is preventing it from being pursued, though likely it is a lack of money available to do it and probably not because of opposition from the Proprietors of the Green.
Great ideas. I’m really interested to know who is on this “Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven.” It doesn’t appear to be public information.
Totally agree – would love to see more activity on the Green.
My husband and I are moving into downtown New Haven this September. Having lived in Manhattan, I’ve imagined many weekends on The Green: weekly concerts, picnics, craft fairs, and of course food trucks. Even read an article recently how the High Line has inspired cities all over the country to reinvigorate their urban spaces. This can’t be that hard.