Maybe it was the beauty of the day. Maybe it was because I had my camera and wanted to take some shots. I spent a good part of today walking through Downtown New Haven and was mostly pleased by what I saw.
Sure, I work on the edge of downtown, but I drive in from the ‘burbs, park in our lot and don’t hang around when work ends at 11:35 pm.
A little backstory is probably necessary. I wasn’t here, but around 30 years ago New Haven set out on a vast urban renewal program. The ripped up and relocated and began to rebuild… until they stopped.
A highway, garage and right of way for more highway that was never built, isolated part of the city from its core. A poorly thought out urban mall was built. Some very ugly architecture (like the now defunct New Haven Coliseum) went up.
It started as a flesh wound, but left untreated this urban renewal project sucked the life out of the city.
When I came, 20 years ago, there was talk of the Ninth Square Project… and nothing happened. One of the mall’s anchor stores, Malleys, had already closed. It wasn’t long before Macy’s shut down too. The city festered. The downtown deteriorated.
A few years ago a restaurant renaissance began. Along with the Italian restaurants of Wooster Street, fashionable… might I say trendy restaurants started popping up.
Still, the central city emptied out before dark. Streets were deserted.
Now, it seems like the corner has been turned. The Ninth Square Project is finally bearing fruit. People are living in that downtown neighborhood… and as people at work have told me, with reasonably pricey rents – a sign of demand.
Today I walked past more downtown apartments with more under construction. This is a very good sign.
The older architecture of the city is truly beautiful. There are lots of buildings with ornate exterior work. These are buildings with structural integrity which have been or can be refurbished.
A thriving downtown is the key to a thriving city. Downtown New Haven was built for walking – literally. It should be a walking city again, day and night.
I am serious when I say today I got excited as I walked around New Haven.
It isn’t perfect. Taxes are high. The problems of an urban center add a hidden tax in the form of higher insurance. In a society that primarily shops at malls, the mall is no more. Yale is often perceived as a foreign enclave plucked into, but not part of, the city.
But there is a lot going on. There are places to eat, places to live. There are residents walking the streets.
The Downtown New Haven neighborhood is as strong, probably stronger, than I’ve seen it in 20 years.