City of the Future

If you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, you might’ve missed the bad news: Apparently, Connecticut is a post-apocalyptic wasteland from which there is no escape from taxes, regulations, and unfunded pension liabilities.

Apocalyptic Train
Geez, the Bridgeport Metro North stop has seen better days.

There are literally dozens of articles about it. But fundamentally, there are a few things building a sort of a “perfect storm,” or, in more Connecticut standards, a perfect malaise:

  • Young people are moving from the suburbs to vibrant cities (does Bridgeport not count?!) or warm, cheap suburbs like South Carolina and Texas
  • Decades of unfunded pension liabilities are now becoming a serious budget liability
  • Tax revenues tied to capital gains have dropped dramatically
  • Hyper-local municipalities mean towns like West Hartford and Stratford can keep the benefits of being essentially “in” a city without paying for city schools/services

In The Atlantic, the problem is summed up rather succinctly:

In the biggest picture, Connecticut is a victim of two huge trends—first, the revitalization of America’s great rich cities and second, the long-term rise of hot, cheap suburbs. But Connecticut’s cities are not rich or great; its weather is not hot year-round; and its cost-of-living is not low. The state once benefited from the migration of corporations and their employees from grim and dangerous nearby metros, but now that wave is receding. To get rich, Connecticut offered a leafy haven where America’s titans of finance could move. To stay rich, it will have to build cities where middle-class Americans actually want to stay.

Sure, climate change might eventually render Connecticut a nice alternative to South Carolina, but in the meantime, the second alternative is our only choice: building cities where middle-class Americans actually want to stay.

Sunken City
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 2049.

And no offense to Hartford (go Yard Goats!) or Bridgeport (go Bluefish!), but New Haven is, far and away, the most vibrant, young, and cultured city in Connecticut.

Monocle Guy

If someone’s going to save Connecticut, it’s going to be New Haven.

So how can we do it?

With Pizza!

From Wikimedia Commons

Not really. Sorry, New Haven, we can’t just ride our Apizza Glory to victory this time.

Build a Startup Culture

You know what a vibrant city needs? Jobs.

It’s all well and good to have awesome bars and restaurants and galleries and whatnot, but nobody can afford all those attractions without jobs. But beyond Yale, there aren’t a ton of great places to work in New Haven.

Heck, even the much-coveted Alexion is apparently now under investigation by the HHS.

Head in Hands
Of course.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One New Haven startup, however, has been doing pretty well: SeeClickFix. Their rapid expansion has been going pretty well and more and more cities across the US have been entering contracts to provide government services through SeeClickFix.

There’s also numerous health-related startups thanks to Yale’s enormous biomedical research industry, as well as a few random tech startups like Veritronic, Square 9 and Knock Media.

(At least those are the ones I know.)

Meanwhile, New Haven is one of four cities to be designated a Tech Incubator and is eligible to receive a ton of funding earmarked for startups.

Fun Fact: This is exactly what every startup programmer looks like. They’re all just clones.
Source: Pixabay

Caroline Smith and Margaret Lee also started Collaboratory, a partnership between the startup community and Yale in order to help facilities possibilities for collaboration between the traditionally conflicting Town-Gown communities.

So what’re you waiting for? There’s never been a better time to start a company in New Haven.

Better Public Transit and Bike Lanes

You know who hates driving cars? Millennials. Also, people who want to live in cities like Boston and NYC.

Owners a car is expensive. You have to insure it, pay taxes, fill it with gas, destroy the environment.

But for many in New Haven, public transit remains an albatross. They take the Yale Shuttle, if anything, because they can easily follow the app and it’s free.

Meanwhile, CT Transit serves the Greater New Haven area very well, but who knows how to use it? Without advanced study of bus schedules, it’s hard to know where the buses are going, when they’ll arrive, etc.

Maybe we could join the rest of THE ENTIRE WORLD and get some electronic signage? You know the sort of thing that says:

  • The B Whalley Ave bus will arrive in: 3 minutes
  • Going to: Dwight, Edgewood, Westville via Whalley Ave
  • Portland Digital Mall Sign
    You mean I don’t need to just… memorize the bus schedule?!
    Source: Wikimedia Commons

Crazy, right?

I will say I’m very excited about the bike infrastructure being build. The new Edgewood bike lane is going to be fantastic and will serve a ton of people in that area and provide a safer alternative for biking in New Haven.

Edgewood Cycle Track
Look at these cool kids!
Source: CDM

Listen, I’m crazy enough to ride on Whalley Ave in the middle of rush hour. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart. Or that you should do it.

Make it Easy to Get Involved

Want to get involved in New Haven? Cool. Do you know how? Me either.

I guess you could like… show up to an Alder meeting? That sounds… boring. Or you can join the local Community Group in your neighborhood. Does it have a website? No? Oh.. okay.

A great example of this is Young Involved Philadelphia, which helps promote ways for young people to get involved in civic-minded activities.

New Haven has no central repository for this kind of information. If you google “civic opportunities in New Haven” you’re liable to get 100 different answers. A single gateway could go a long way.

This is pretty much millennials given any problem.
Source: Pixabay

Philadelphia also has a program for helping young people find internships/volunteer opportuniteis after finishing school, which has massively boosted their retention of post-graduation residents.

Are you listening, Toni Harp?

Build Your Own Scene

A city is, ultimately, made up of its people. And New Haven has some unbelievable people.

I am lucky to be involved in a surprisingly robust local comedy scene. I have met tremendous people who are doing their best to create a vibrant scene by hosting open mics and comedy shows. I’ve found people really enjoy the shows and it’s given people something to do on a Friday night, as well as explore local arts and culture.

There are constantly local shows at Artspace, Erector Square, and a ton of other galleries. I’m amazed how often people are building a local art scene here.

Matt Fantastic is helping build a game community at Elm City Games, which is doing extremely well and also building a little community over there, giving people a chance to share something fun outside of the typical bar/restaurant scene.

New Haven has a huge bike community as well. Whether it’s being a part of the rides organized by Devil’s Gear or by getting a membership and fixing up your bike or attending events at Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op or just going to a New Haven Bike Party there are a ton of options out there.

Who knows what the future holds? Who knows what future community could be built?

But you can build it. All you need is a dream. And some friends.

Not sure where to start? Email me. I’ll help.

I don’t know what Connecticut’s future holds. But I know it relies on the people who build its communities. That’s you and me and everyone else. And New Haven is on the cutting edge of that, and I’m proud to be a part of that future.

I hope you are, too.

Also, be on the lookout for a brand-new Between Two Rocks Podcast! We’re recording today so it should be out… someday!


  1. Case in point – Connecticut wont even grant Tesla the ability to sell cars directly to the public from their showrooms. Embedded interests, like the car dealership lobby, are preventing the state from moving forward and engaging new industries and business models. Antiquated thinking / planning are holding this state back – without forward looking policymakers in Hartford the situation is likely to worsen…

  2. Great! Rebuilding starts with jobs which New Haven does not have enough of, especially being middle aged with plenty of experience I was the middle class now am not.

  3. How do you mention Hartford & Bridgeport (?) without mentioning Stamford and Norwalk, arguably the only cities in CT right now with any sort of true growth.

  4. Every ten years New Haven goes through an identity crisis, and asks itself “How do we keep young people from moving?”. And then ten years goes by and the same question gets asked again. Meanwhile all those twenty something Gen X’ers that New Haven chased away in the nineties went on to get jobs, start their own businesses, buy houses, have families, and pay taxes SOMEWHERE ELSE and the same small thinking politicians make the same exact mistakes that put us there in place, keep making those very same mistakes over and over again while we gush over pizza.

    New Haven is going to be starting from square one, while other cities like Austin, Seattle and Minneapolis have had a twenty year head start. Call me a cynic. Call me a naysayer. But in ANOTHER ten years we’re going to be asking this exact same question.

    1. Hey “Sterling,”

      Curious what you think we can do about it, i.e., how do we stop “chasing” people away? Is this just another thinly-veiled attack on “taxes and regulations”? Cause it’s obviously not a problem for bigger cities.

      I do think the things like the cycle track and the new train service to Hartford are great ideas which will help CT and New Haven.

  5. I’m far from being one of those anti-tax / no regulation guys. I fully understand that if you want police, fire departments, roads, and your trash picked up on a regular basis, then you have to pay for it, and regulations are there because business is incapable of regulating itself. However, for the amount of taxes we pay in New Haven, I have to question just how that money is being spent. The cycle track is a nice thing, but it doesn’t address any of the real problems in New Haven. We have systemic inequality in New Haven, and building more luxury apartments with the HOPE that the wealthy residents who move in will invest in the neighborhood, doesn’t solve anything. All it really seems to be is another form of “red lining”, and creating another housing bubble when all those trust fund Yale kids find out you can get a place in Hamden for a THIRD of what you’re paying in New Haven.

    Those Gen X’ers were chased out of New Haven because they had the audacity to go to rock clubs like nineteen, twenty, and twenty one year olds were doing in other cities. And for that the police would take them into custody, hold them for a few hours, release them, and then a month later the charges would be “dropped”. All in an effort drive out the undesirables because certain developers were afraid that kids with black hair and leather jackets would scare off suburbanites with their Visa gold cards.

    Granted I’m not a civic planner or civil engineer. I don’t know that. And I’m not an expert on tax policy, I don’t know that either. It’s more “meta” than anything. First of all, SCRAP the Coliseum Crossing plan (or what ever it’s called today) or at least place it on hold. Yes, I know I know, the city is tripping over itself to have that site developed after our former illustrious “mayor” was in such a hurry to tear down the arena. That plan was originally supposed to incorporate the Long Wharf Theater, but that collapsed under its own weight, and this will too. Gateway is there now taking prime real estate off the tax rolls forever, so there’s not much we can do about it. I know we’re not going to get a new minor ball park or a new arena (the city always claims it’s broke, but they never wanted to build anything even when it had the money, and the neighborhood around the Coliseum always looked like Stalingrad during the siege for years). So hold off on that.

    Second, revamp the Board of Education. As with everything else, it always comes down to education. Stop with the charter schools, they have been proven to have no better outcomes than public schools. Stop with the ten principals at every school making a hundred grand each. Make the board of ed work BETTER. Education and job training is always the key, and that investment is always returned to you.

    Next, GET THE CT GIG PROJECT MOVING AGAIN!! Both the city AND Yale have a vested interest in getting this done. For the money the want to throw at the Coliseum site, you can put a contract up for bid to string fiber optics across the city, and if Frontier objects to using the poles, you MICROTRENCH that bad boy. This about more than just video games and Netflix. New Haven is home to an Ivy League university. LATVIA should not have better internet than we do.

    Next, improve the bus system. The reason why nobody wants to ride the bus is because they don’t take you anywhere you want to go. You have buses running routes from the 1950’s to bring workers to factories that no longer exist. The hub and spoke system is no longer viable. So the bus routes are going to have to be completely revamped. It should not take an HOUR to go from Fair Haven to Hamden. Take a look at what London is doing with their bus routes, and try and adapt it. I know that’s verboten for many politicians because they want to be the ones that came up with an idea, however if it works it works. Institute an Oyster Card-like system on buses, with kiosks at stops where you can check the balance and where you can “top up” your card by inserting coins or cash and holding it up to the machine. You can model it on the MTA’s Metro Card system. The current system they have for monthly passes and day passes, they had the right idea but the execution is off.

    The other things are to “call off the dogs”. New Haven has a horrible history of driving things away because they merely don’t like them, and don’t fit with their sanitized version of urban living. That also means stop the practice of punitive parking. If you go downtown you should not have to wonder if your car is going to be there when you want to leave, and then have to pay a ransom to get it back.

    Stop with the “high end”! They always had this vision of all these boutique and high stores for downtown (more trickle down). Cities aren’t revitalized by high end shops, they’re revitalized by things you use every day. Delis. Bookstores. Coffee shops (NOT STARBUCKS). Ninth Square was ripe for that kind of development. They could have easily had a district like 6th Street in Austin or Uptown in Minneapolis. But they went right back to trying to make everything “high end”.

    Finally, come up with a way for people to dispose of their bulk trash more easily. I should not see MATTRESSES AND TELEVISIONS on the side of the road, like I’m living in Guatemala. The city used to do this when I was a kid. They’d have two bulk trash pickups per year. Now you have to pay $50 AND make an appointment. So rather than part with the $50, many just dump what ever it is on the side of the road, and eventually the city removes it.

    I’m sure there’s things I’m missing, and for something like Tweed I have no idea how you can placate the residents and expand the airport at the same time. This isn’t the first time I’ve floated some of these ideas. I would tell many from the city, and they not only didn’t listen to any of them, they weren’t even smart enough to steal them.

    1. Hey Sterling,

      I actually really appreciate this comment. There’s a lot of really good stuff in here. I am especially curious about the London bus system and will spend some time researching that. As a new-ish bus rider, I would love to advocate for more public transportation, but I admit it can be wildly inconvenient to use.

      I also absolutely agree that we need more “regular” stores here and less boutiques. It’s all well and good to sell $200 shoes, but sometimes I just need to buy a wrench or maybe a new video game. Why should I have to leave town for that, it’s ridiculous. NYC is full of both boutiques AND normal stores.

      My speculation is that Yale owning so much property is trying to maintain that kind of commerce.

      I do think the Cycle Track is going to be good for a lot of different demographics and not just upper class. Yes, it goes to Westville, but it also goes through Dwight and Edgewood, which are very mixed-income neighborhoods with people who travel predominantly by bicycle.

      I’m gonna talk to City Transportation Director Doug Hausladen about the buses, I actually believe they have long-term plans to move away from hub-and-spoke, but I think it’s probably limited by funding currently. But they did a long-term transportation study for exactly this reason, I believe.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.