“I Say, ‘Tear It Down’”

by Allan Appel | April 17, 2008 1:10 AM | | Comments (15)

nhi34%20002.JPGJohn Norquist tore down a “connector” in Milwaukee more than twice as long as New Haven’s lamentable Mayor Richard Lee Highway — and a viable and prosperous streetscape arose in its place. He came to New Haven to tell us how to do it.

More than 100 people came to the Career Regional Magnet High School auditorium Wednesday night, many thinking they were there to hear from a kind of transportation messiah. As with messiahs in general, Norquist, who served as Milwaukee’s mayor from 1988-2004, didn’t bring many details, but he did provide hope.

Calling the Route 34 connector, the “Disconnector,” Norquist also provided some concrete advice: “First, don’t contemplate the project to death. It’s not going to be extended, it doesn’t justify itself by carrying much traffic. So get on with it, build the pressure, and get it done, so it can be an example to other cities, especially Hartford.”

Mayor John DeStefano wants to build over the Route 34 Connector and redevelop all the land once planned for an extended highway there.

But a co-speaker of Norquist Wednesday night, state Deputy Transportation Commissioner Albert Martin said the removal of Route 34 is by no means a done deal with his department.

Speaking with consummate diplomatese, he said, “Governor Rell’s vision of livable communities calls for an objective study of the removal of 34 to see if it’s in the best interest of New Haven.”

“I say tear it down,” Norquist replied in his remarks. “The state built it, let the state get rid of it. If you want to be nice, maybe the city can pay for the utility reconnects. But otherwise, not a dime.”

nhi34%20003.JPGHe also advised that the road should be taken down as close to I-95 as possible. “Get those off ramps tucked right next to the highway,” he said, “the way it’s done on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. So that when you get off the highway as soon as possible you’re on a viable urban grid of small streets.”

Except perhaps for Martin, Norquist was preaching to the choir about the removal of 34. It was the nature of the new space to be created, that viable urban grid to follow the removal, that was really on the minds of the audience members.

“I didn’t come here because I needed convincing to take down 34,” said East Rock Alderman Allan Brison of the Green Party. (Only two other alders, Dwight’s Gina Calder and Fair Haven’s Erin-Sturgis Pascale, were present.) “I hoped to hear what’s going to go in there. From what I heard from the city at previous meetings and the current construction makes me think it’s going to be high-end tall buildings with lots of parking.”

City Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy conceded that in her Power Point presentation, preceding Norquist’s, the pictures might have given the wrong impression. “We do have to make new graphics, because what the mayor has in mind for the infill are not Shartenbergs, no.” (She was referring to the 32-story residential and commercial tower now under construction at State and Chapel.)

“That was appropriate because of the proximity to the train. Here, yes, buildings, maybe five or six stories, open spaces, an activated streetscape.” Click here and here for mayoral views on the future of the area.

Vanessa Burns, representing State Sen. Toni Harp, asked Norquist to comment on how the post-highway removal gentrification in Milwaukee affected local minority communities.

“If you mean affordable rents,” he responded, “the head of our city council, an African- American, said that affordable rents should not be a goal in life.”

nhi34%20004.JPG“Unaffordable rents should be. He meant of course that people do so well, they can afford more. I wouldn’t worry about it. Then again, I’m not that familiar with New Haven.”

Anstress Farwell of the New Haven Urban Design League, which co-hosted the meeting, said keeping up the pressure of public input through just such meetings is precisely what’s called for as the city fills in its concept of the use of the to-be-vacated space. “What the city is thinking in this regard isn’t yet clear to me.”

However inchoate the concept, Murphy predicted the restored urban grid after 34’s removal would create ten acres to develop upon which 2,000 jobs and $3.5 million in new taxes could be realized.

Was that the equivalent of Norquist’s gospel advice for the Elm City?: “New Haven needs to focus on creating really great streets. Don’t worry about moving traffic. That’s a fool’s errand.”

He cited success stories of dramatic highway removal and consequent renewal of economy and street life, from Manhattan’s West Side Highway to Seoul, Korea. “Reformulate the question for the governor: Make her ask what adds value to Connecticut and New Haven, and the answer is street life.”

Farwell was pleased with the meeting but said her group and other non-profits need to raise money to have more of them.

Appropriately for a preacher’s son, Norquist ended his entertaining tour of the era of the end of sprawl and back to the future of the way streets were, by quoting Matthew, chapter 7: “Broad is the road that leads to destruction. Narrow is the road that leads to life.”

Along with the New Haven Urban Design League (129 Church Street, Suite 419, New Haven, CT 06510), the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy watchdog organization, was a co-sponsor of the event.

Share this story

Share |


Posted by: visitor | April 17, 2008 8:44 AM

what about the awful placement of 95? reclaiming the waterfront?

Posted by: robn | April 17, 2008 8:57 AM

The Urban Design League needs to show how the daily I-91 traffic back up on the connector (something that Mr Norquist obviously hasn't bothered to examine) is going to be absorbed by that exit. Its completely unacceptable for that exiting to be absorbed into the East Rock neighborhood, where there is already too much traffic. Unless viable, high volume exiting is provided in the current connector location this idea is dead on arrival. Alderman Brison should acknowledge this problem becuase if he doesn't he is going to be a one term alderman.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2008 10:15 AM

That is in the plans
go to ...page 27

I support this 100% with reservations that Yale seems to be tied into it big time. but as a whole it will make New Haven a better place.

I do like his quote from the Bible.
"Broad is the road that leads to destruction. Narrow is the road that leads to life."
It is so true

Posted by: Our Town [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2008 11:10 AM

For those of you with little knowledge of history, the waterfront as you know it exists BECAUSE I-95 was built. All of the long wharf area was created through the highway construction. That was marsh, and before that the harbor came into Water Steet (that's why it's called WATER St.)

Where would you put I-95, throught the center of town as was proposed at one time?

The current plan to create additional park land to the east of the existing highway is problematic as without a road, it will be more of a shooting gallery than it already is.

Posted by: Hartford Johnson | April 18, 2008 9:08 AM

Why did Vanessa Burns need to point out the skin color of Toni Harp?

My jaw dropped when I read that gratuitous reference to "ethnicity" in a meeting about highway demolition.

Posted by: Gary Doyens | April 18, 2008 11:01 AM

John DeStefano found a real soulmate in Norquist. Tear it down; don't think about it too much and don't pay a dime. It's the state's problem, let them pay. That's music for the choir.

New Haven would do well to investigate and look closer at Norquist's claims of robust redevelopment in this corridor. According to the City of Milwaukee's own website the Park East project has been mostly dormant for the last several years. There are a few projects that have been built, but much of it, is unrealized.

The financing of the demolition by the way, contrary to Norquist's advice to New Haven, required millions of dollars from the city in concert with the state and federal governments. They formed a special tax district, which included a proposed amendment to ban any non-profit development.

At best, Norquist was a marginal mayor who was plagued by multiple scandals, leaving office before the end of his term in a get of Dodge move, for his current gig. During his tenure, many jobs were lost; he lost as host city of the Packers, poverty increased and the city schools were stagnant. White flight in Milwaukee was the 5th highest in the nation; overall population decrease was the 6th largest in the nation and violence/murders never abated. He did grow an outstanding summer music festival along the waterfront and there were pockets of prosperity.

One article said his lack of vision, inability to close large important deals and lack of interpersonal skills needed to build bridges and support with important groups outside of contractors and people dependent on City Hall, held the City of Milwaukee back. Norquist was mayor for 15 years.

Posted by: Our Town [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2008 12:41 PM

Beware false prophets. They talk of destroying one true transportation corridor without thought of how all that traffic will get around, just, it will be absorbed by the grid system. They talk of replacing the highway with buildings in "scale" with their surroundings. They talk of trolleys, but don't want to build to the density that would actually support a trolley system.

This is all poorly thought out. Give me an alternate transportation plan before you start tearing out a major transportation facility.

Some here forget that Rt. 34 is part of a regional system, it's not just for New Haven. Every city could say get your road away from here, but we all rely on the system, and we need to look beyond our parochial interests and see the big picture.

All I can say is that I don't want any of those 80,000 cars a day coming down my street. That's why the Rt. 34 highway was constructed in the first place. All that traffic was on Chapel Street and George Street. And now there's even more. What a relief to the neighborhood was Rt. 34 when it was connected along the frontage roads...Have we forgotten?

Posted by: Westvilleguy | April 18, 2008 3:44 PM

I love the idea of restructuring 34. Too long has this city been a slave to PILOT. I dont understand why we count on it so heavily.

Build more taxable properties, encourage business and an influx of residents to suppourt our local shops and retailers. THis may help balance the budget.

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 18, 2008 5:13 PM

This is a fantastic idea. Obviously, there will have to be a careful traffic engineering study, but I don't think the nay-sayers realize how much traffic a well-designed six or eight lane "boulevard" can handle. I am sure that the nay-sayers who opposed Norquist in Milwaukee had all the same concerns, but then they actually "ran the experiment" and the nay-sayers were wrong.

And Darn Right its the folks who collect all that gas tax revenue (the state and the Feds) who should be the ones paying for a truly functional urban road system to replace the '50s system of "destroy the city with highways in order to save it."

Posted by: Webblog 1 | April 19, 2008 3:19 PM

How much was Norquist paid to come to New Haven and say something stupid like:

"If you mean affordable rents," he responded, "the head of our city council, an African- American, said that affordable rents should not be a goal in life."
"Unaffordable rents should be. He meant of course that people do so well, they can afford more. I wouldn't worry about it. Then again, I'm not that familiar with New Haven."

Obviously Norquist didn't do his home work:

According to a NHI article Re: "Pilot Hike Back on the Table"

Forty Seven thousand (47K) New Haven residents qualify for federal Earned Income Tax Credit, that's 47K of 92K persons above the age of 18, with a family of four earning less than 40K a year. (Source U.S. Census Bureau).
Almost half of New Haven's residents rely on the so called affordable rent.

Therefore, Vanessa Burns, representing State Sen. Toni Harp, asked Norquist to comment on how the post-highway removal gentrification in Milwaukee affected local minority communities.

This was an entirely appropriate question.

Posted by: robn | April 20, 2008 1:51 PM

This is a stupid idea and I'll reiterate that anyone who thinks its a good one should drive down I-91 into 34 during rush hour and observe the volume of traffic. There is NO WAY that this can be instantly absorbed into a slow city grid without backing up traffic and causing drivers to dump into East Rock.

There is plenty of developeable area beyond Phizer and the reason that rt 3d dempo is being discussed is becuase its a classic triple dip...federal pork barrel funding for road demolition as well as road re-building and surrounding redevelopment.

How about just simply develop where there isn't a major vehicular artery?

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2008 4:45 PM

I am going off track here but.........
Webblog 1 brings up a pet peeve of mine. Affordable house which is two different things in New Haven. The first being affordable rent that the regular working Joe can afford. The second being Section 8 subsidized housing. Most working stiffs do not qualify for section 8 and if a family does there is a waiting list years long to get on it. So Weblog 1 when talking about affordable housing this must be addressed. When building new projects the city says they will have yadda yadda amount of affordable housing integrated into said projects... this does not mean affordable rent... it means section 8 housing. The only way real affordable rents can be accomplished in New Haven (in my narrow minded thought) is to lower property tax so that the homeowners do not have to pass that cost down to the renters.
And you are right... this guy came in not knowing this city and not giving an intelligent answer to one of the bigger of issues surrounding our communitys right now. The middle classes plight of being able to live here and not sell their home to investors.
I have been keeping an eye on such a law....(yes here i going again about this law Paul :)

I was told the mayor does not support it, and it has made it through another step in Hartford and has be rewritten to be an option for city's and town (which we will not be part of)

This is the progress of the law

The original bill

And now the new version of the bill which just might make it through

But sadly New Haven citizens and homeowners will not get to be part of it!

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2008 5:37 PM

ps it is just hear say that the mayor does not support it..... anyone that's reading know if he does? Our cities is one of the 18 on the new bill that would have the option.

Posted by: robn | April 22, 2008 9:04 AM


Thanks for the research. Its an interesting bill...but I wish that something could be added to the law to take away the tax incentive owners get when their property declines. LCI has tried hard, but it just doesn't seem to be enough to pull bad neighborhoods out of decline.

Posted by: Douglas Willinger | September 30, 2008 7:40 PM

See this about New Haven 34:


Have any safety studies been done about the increase in vehicular - pedestrian conflict to be brought buy the new real estate development truncating the freeway versus that built as air rights atop a subterranean extension at least past Howe or Dwight Streets?

Sorry, Comments are closed for this entry

Special Sections

Legal Notices

Some Favorite Sites

Government/ Community Links



N.H.I. Site Design & Development

NHI Store

Buy New Haven Independent Stuff

News Feed

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35