Ten Years Later, Where is New Haven?

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New Haven from above

Usually, after the completion of a year, I do some silly write-up about places which closed, surprising news of the year, throw in a few snarky comments about how everything is stupid, voila, new article. Classic Journalism.

But it’s 2020. We’re officially In The Future. And it’s got me thinking about my time in New Haven, and how I’ve seen it change. And how I’ve seen it not change.

I arrived in New Haven about 9 years ago, very early in the decade. I saw a city full of young, thriving professionals. Cool bars. Excellent restaurants. A transient population of scientists and academics. Way too many people with far too little. Disproportionately non-white.

But I could ignore that last problem! I was young and having fun!

via GIPHY

The More Things Change

Each year brings new promise. And new, bitter disappointments. Promises made, promises left behind.

LiveWorkLearnPlay? Edgewood Bike Lane? English Station Remediation?

So when the City of New Haven shows off some $140 million plan for Long Wharf? I’m sorry, but just… yeah.

Parkway District
There is a lot going on in this Long Wharf Fever Dream.

Indeed, as Connecticut has weathered a sobering decade full of stagnation and even regression, New Haven has not escaped unscathed. Even as America becomes more urbanized, New Haven’s population has been entirely stagnant.

Yalies come, Yalies go. Townies come, townies move to the suburbs and build fences. We’re not so different after all.

Even when expansion and growth happens, it seems to happen at the top. Yale has more money than ever. How much of it has gone to New Haven’s poor?

New Haven’s median household income is $39,191. The American median is $61,937. Connecticut’s is $73,831.

New Haven Median Income
Source: https://datausa.io/profile/geo/new-haven-ct/

Same as it ever was.

Meanwhile, Yale built a beautiful new residential college with majestic arches, bell towers, and walls. To keep you-know-who out.

The Building Boom

The New Haven Building Boom is upon us. Six- and seven-story apartment buildings gleam under the noon day sun, their “market rate” apartments priced for scientists and lawyers. Perhaps, with enough negotiation, the real estate developers will stop cashing checks long enough to throw an “affordable housing” apartment or two. Usually not for the actual poor. But, y’know. The not-yet-rich.

Audobon Apartment Complex
Sweet, finally some more apartments none of us can afford.
Image courtesy the New Haven Independent

We have a new Mayor. Perhaps he can change things. Maybe the way he threatens his alma matter — the same as the last Mayor — will matter. Yes, yes.

Maybe Yale will “do more.” But it’ll be for people who look like me. People who probably don’t read this blog because they don’t have white collar jobs where they can pretend to work all day and surf Facebook.

via GIPHY

Yale hires some poor people. And they can claw their way out with a decent paycheck. Perhaps, in a generation, those families will be totally middle class. They’ll get those boring desk jobs. Or maybe become scientists or academics.

Yale promised to hire 500 people from “Neighborhoods of Need” in New Haven and… didn’t quite do it. Maybe a few more billions of dollars and they can get there?

I’m sure this is New Haven’s fault somehow. But don’t worry! Yale pays some tiny shred of their endowment and assets to New Haven! It’s fine! Everything is fine!

Asking the Questions

I will give New Haven one thing. We’re thinking about it. We’re at least asking the question. Is gentrification good for this neighborhood? Who is going to get pushed out? Who is going to have to deal with the consequences?

As the City attempted to rezone Dixwell, Grand, and Whalley Avenues, two of the neighborhoods said: no thanks. They asked the questions, and perhaps, in time, we’ll see answers. The city listened.

Yet for all the fear and for all the wringing of hands, is New Haven substantially different than it was 10 years ago? Gun violence continues to plague the city. The poor neighborhoods have stayed poor. Downtown has less vacant lots, but once again, the benefits go to the upper middle class. Doctors, lawyers, software engineers who look like me.

Land developers, always.

Randy Salvatore
Flipping apartment buildings is a pretty solid business if you have a cool $100 million lying around
Source: New Haven Independent

I don’t know what to do about it. I see plenty of protests outside City Hall, but do I get the sense it fundamentally changes things? Who knows.

Yet New Haven has been a beacon of hope as well. We are a Sanctuary City, and we care about our immigrant population. We see no need to break up families of hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves. Well most of us do. There’s still a few jerks out there.

“Laws are laws,” they’d mutter to themselves as they turned their fire hoses on protestors.

I know plenty of people who are out there advocating for all the good things. Jobs for the jobless, affordable housing, fair treatment.

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Shamelessly stolen from their website.

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New Haven People

Yet there is still some weird thing in my brain that says… we’re special. There’s something weird about us. This  City is full of strange, wonderful people doing the best they can. Building communities.

Like the gang over at Elm City Games. Or at Breathing Room. Or at Lyric Hall. These people are building something. Heck, like me.

Maybe it’s just love. My love for these weirdos. It keeps me connected. Every time I ride my bike downtown and see some weird-ass shit and I’m just like, yep… that’s New Haven.

I love it, but I’ve become jaded by it. Maybe that’s the sign of a real marriage. In spite of all its flaws, and all the broken promises, I can’t help but love you, you big, dumb city.

via GIPHY

Do I think New Haven will ever be New York or Boston? No. Do I think we’ll ever see this huge Long Wharf Redevelopment Plan! Ha!

But I do think we can get better. Gradually, one step at a time. One job, one vacant lot, one new community at a time.

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1 COMMENT

  1. And that “love” will slowly degenerate into hate, just like it has for the rest of, and you’ll be begging for a divorce. Unless of course you become trapped in a loveless marriage like so many others. New Haven always offers a sliver of hope, and then yanks it away, ala Lucy and Charlie Brown. All the same mistakes of the 90’s are being repeated as New Haven lurches from one recession to another. The “building boom” funded by banks who tanked the economy by betting on toxic assets they knew would fail in the 2008 and 1990. The condos that went unsold. The boarded up houses that nobody could afford to pay taxes on, that eventually rotted off their foundations. And the monolith of Yale standing by, pretending to have be invested in the city, while not lifting a finger unless it serves its own interests. We’ve seen this cycle repeated time and time again.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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