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!
The More Things Change
Each year brings new promise. And new, bitter disappointments. Promises made, promises left behind.
So when the City of New Haven shows off some $140 million plan for Long Wharf? I’m sorry, but just… yeah.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Run for IRIS: Sign up here.)
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.
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.