In The Hill, Lots Of Opportunity Beckon

Kelly Murphy and Erik Johnson did something radical on Lafayette Street: They took a walk.

Not to pick up their car from a parking lot. Not to visit the doctor.

Just to take a walk.

And to make a point.

Nobody else was taking a walk. Every once in a while another human popped up momentarily to retrieve a car from somewhere amid the sea of surface lots.

That was part of Murphy’s and Johnson’s point. They were demonstrating how the portion of the Hill within a mile of Union Station has over the last half-century has deteriorated from a busy neighborhood to a “no-man’s land” thanks to New Haven’s headlong dive into urban renewal. They spoke of how it can become a busy neighborhood once again—and serve as fertile land for New Haven to build up its tax base and create jobs, perhaps the last spot of its kind along with some prime spots just across Route 34 downtown like the old Coliseum site. (Click on the video above to walk with them.)

Murphy and Johnson are currently engaged in trying to make that happen. As New Haven government’s economic development director and Livable City Initiative (i.e. neighborhood anti-blight agency) chief, they hold the same jobs as the planners who charted the bulldozing of homes and businesses and social centers in that stretch of the Hill in the 1960s. They have launched a new drive to remake the streets, rezone the land, and entice builders to make Lafayette Street, Church Street South, Tower Lane, and their surroundings friendly to pedestrians and apartment-dwellers and shop owners and office workers.

City of New HavenThey call their drive the “Hill-to-Downtown Planning Initiative.” It has just started with the help of a $1 million federal “transit-oriented development” planning grant (read about that here), funneled through the state, designed to encourage cities to use trains and bus lines as spurs to concentrated new building projects. The goal is to connect the train station with the booming Yale/Yale-New Haven Hospital medical area as well as with downtown. Especially now that young people and seniors have been moving into the city and seem to want to live near the center of activity without relying on cars. Official study language puts the goal this way: “to reverse-engineer urban renewal and by making New Haven a continuous and connected city and not a city of enclaves separated by highways.”

Murphy and Johnson don’t pretend to be better intentioned than their counterparts of the urban renewal era. Government planners in their shoes back then believed that cities needed to compete with suburbs to survive by building around the needs of drivers. The planners believed that cities needed to turn main streets into speedways to help them zooming in and out of town, by spreading out vast parking lots so they can park as conveniently as at a suburban office park.

Now the thinking has changed. Now planners believe cities cannot out-suburb the suburbs. They believe cities succeed by building on their strengths as busy places where you can walk places, where you can live, shop, go to work, eat, and socialize all within a compact, attractive space. Like what has been happening in downtown New Haven.

And what Murphy and Johnson envisioned happening along the route of their walk.

“When people think of neighborhoods, they don’t think of parking lots and buildings behind fences,” Murphy said. She was standing outside one such fence, a big fence, at the corner of Lafayette and Church Street South. It surrounds a sprawling parking lot which itself surrounds an island set well back from the street, the 2 Church Street South medical office building.

Johnson and Murphy would like to see that lot filled in, along with perhaps a replacement for the office building, one separated from the street by only an 8-to-10-foot-wide sidewalk. Yes, the building would need parking—either underground or wrapped around the building in multiple stories.

The initiative won’t end with the city buying properties like these and dictating what gets built there, though, Murphy and Johnson said. They don’t see New Haven reverting to a 1950s- and ‘60s-style eminent domain spree. Instead, they envision making it worthwhile for owners of all these surface lots to sell them to builders or to build on them themselves. Zoning that more easily allows “mixed use” (combinations of homes, stores, restaurants, and/or offices) and requires less parking than in the past would help make that happen, they said. So would wider sidewalks and streets that make sense, unlike some of the area’s cut-throughs that wind in unpredictable directions. The process is starting with the just-begun project to fill in the old Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere, which divided the Hill from downtown. Murphy pointed to the new Gateway Community College campus a mere two blocks north on Church: With the surface lot and the fence and then Route 34 between it and 2 Church Street South, who now would think of walking there or to other nearby destinations?

In fact, before they arrived, a woman leaving 2 Church Street South asked a reporter if he knew anyway to walk out of the parking lot to get across to downtown. She couldn’t see any way out. Downtown seemed far away, not a block away.

“If you work here,” Murphy asked, “where do you go to lunch” if you don’t want to drive?

“If you set back all your buildings so far away from the street, you feel disconnected from [stuff that’s] so close to you,” Johnson observed.

She then pointed in the other direction to the forbidding urban renewal-era Lee High School, now being abandoned by its last occupant (Yale’s nursing school). “Does that look urban to you, the old Dick Lee high school?” she asked. “I don’t think that feels like … any other neighborhood in the city.

“This is an area ripe for development.”

The walk proceeds up Lafayette to Temple Street.

Oh wait. Temple Street wasn’t there. The Route 34 Connector cut it off on the downtown side a half-century ago.

As part of the initiative, once the connector is filled in, Murphy and Johnson would like to see Temple Street continued into the Hill so people can easily walk through. It would link the New Haven Green to the new green space on the Hill’s Amistad Street.

At the other end of Lafayette they came to a crossroads of numerous streets coming from odd angles and directions. All funneling cars to the Connector and I-91 and I-95. “That funnel that takes you out” of New Haven, Johnson observed. “It doesn’t take you across.”

One, two, three, four, five separate surface lots dotted Lafayette, graveyards of the homes and public establishments that once stood above them. The suburban-style two-story College Plaza, a strip mall vestige of urban renewal, loomed in the distance behind yet another surface lot. In order to encourage building on all those lots, the plan is to straighten out the crossroads, straighten out Lafayette, then continue the street in the other direction all the way past the Tower One/Tower East senior complex to the police station.

Paul Bass PhotoThat sounds far; in fact it’s only a few blocks. That became clear as Murphy and Johnson followed Lafayette across the Church Street South speedway (carefully).

Johnson pointed to a surface lot running along the main road and Tower Lane and by St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church. He called that a prime example of a lot that could support a better use. What exactly? That will hinge on a broader change officials hope to see in their lifetimes: the razing and rebuilding of the concrete low-density Church Street South housing projects that begin directly across from Union Station. That change has been delayed by ongoing friction between the city and the complex’s out-of-town government-subsidized private owner. When that eventually gets straightened out, officials envision mixed-income housing, and more of it, on the land, along with retail and perhaps office space. That surface lot on Tower Lane would probably fit into the plan, Johnson said.

So will the opening of Route 1. “Route 1 was diverted shortly after Church Street South was completed for safety reasons,” Johnson noted. “Remember the highways were not always were they are now. New Haven is the only place were Route 1 is not a continuous route; there are places where there is an alternative Route 1 business route, but this is only place where it route has been closed to vehicular traffic.” He wants streets reconnecting people (including, yes, drivers) in a sensible grid. So you can picture how to get four blocks over to the train station without it seeming like a mile away.

Murphy and Johnson walked another block and a half to South Orange Street. That required cutting through grass and lots. They landed in what Johnson called the ultimate “no-man’s land” stretch of the forgotten district: the back end of the Gateway (school board) Meadow Street office building, the back of the police station, the back of the Church Street South projects, the back of a Knights of Columbus printing facility, and an entrance to the Route 34 Connector mini-highway.

No sign of humans. Just parked cars.

“Can you see the train station?” Johnson asked rhetorically.

“Where do these people, how do they get to the work how do they get to the store? It is very isolated,” Murphy said of the projects. “That’s why this development was never successful. It was never connected to the neighborhood.”

Opening Route 1 a block away will help, Johnson said. So will reconnecting South Orange Street with Orange Street across a filled-in Route 34.

He and Murphy would like to see the plan include an upgrading of the Gateway office building. Technological change has made most of the squat K of C printing plant obsolete, they said; now much of it is used for storage. They’d like to see a bigger use of that building too. Looking at the empty lot leading to Tower One/Tower East, they predicted a new senior tower rising to accommodate aging Baby Boomers. In the rebuilt, reclaimed stretch of the Hill envisioned by the city, it’ll be easier for those folks to get to, say, the Shubert or Rite Aid or Gateway or the Green. Or to the train or to stores right outside their door, at the new Church Street South.

Who knows? Maybe an old idea—razing the 1970s era police station, moving the cops closer to downtown, and building offices or stores or homes a block from the train station—will even pop up again.

For now, Murphy and Johnson had to walk back to their offices to return to the incremental task of getting the Hill-To-Downtown Initiative started. The walk back to City Hall took maybe 10 minutes. The revival of the downtown edge of the Hill, if it happens, could take a decade or more. As an initial market study nears completion, the city has created a website so members of the public can follow each step—and get involved, offer their own ideas. Click here to find it.

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posted by: Brutus2011 on March 20, 2013  5:03pm

Nice combo of video and text. Good job, NHI!

posted by: Razzie on March 20, 2013  5:12pm

“This is an area ripe for development.”

Oh my!! Where have they been for the last 5 years? It is truly amazing that both LCI and Economic Development are only now just dusting the cobwebs off and looking to do some development work. But now that John is leaving, I suggest they wait until the new Sheriff comes to town. Not much for them to do between now and November. Anyway, this “charm offensive” can only best be described as ... To little, too late.

posted by: Stylo on March 20, 2013  6:41pm

This starts with razing the Church Street South projects and building a mixed-use development that isn’t largely subsidized.

Right now, folks that get off the train have absolutely no incentive to leave the train, other than to get into a car or cab. If you create a reason - a nice, vibrant development with retail and restaurants - you’ll attract traingoers and you’ll encourage them to continue the walk towards downtown.

Right now, I guarantee most people are too AFRAID to walk to downtown - between the USSR/jail-looking housing projects, to poor pedestrian safety along route 34. It’s not exactly inviting. Route 34 is underway, now we need the Church Street South development redone. The Coliseum site would be icing on the cake, and then you may see some of the other parking lots redeveloped.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 20, 2013  6:41pm

“The Hill” is a topographic reference to area southwest of the West Creek where the land steeply rose from the bank of the creek. This area is roughly where Amistad Park and the immediately surrounding streets are today. The tight network of odd-angled streets is precisely what defines “The Hill” and is the only reminder of the former neighborhood - aside from a handful of remaining buildings. The Oak Street neighborhood was built on top of the West Creek, which was later used as the depressed bed for the Oak Street Connector. “The Upper Hill” is in reference to the rows of streets lined by modest houses and multi-family apartments to the west of Yale-New Haven Hospital and south of Upper Oak Street (now Legion Avenue). The Oyster Point area is the area roughly south of Columbus Avenue, including the old Oyster Point Quarter (present day Trowbridge Square), Kimberly Square, and City Point. Church Street South was originally a mercantile district connected to the Long Wharf, which was replaced by a commercial warehouse and wholesale district with the age of the railroad. The area around Union Avenue is all landfill.
It was a gargantuan oversight of the school rebuilding project not to reconnect Washington Avenue across Columbus Avenue, which would have made today’s desire for “connections” hold a bit more water.
I’d like to see Church Street South and Amistad Park become high-density mixed use districts with a few shared-structured parking areas strategically located as to accommodate future residents and commuters thereby reducing (hopefully eliminating) the need for each individual development to have its own parking appendage, which can often become cancerous through their anti-urbanity. On-street parking should be able to accommodate high turn-over visitor parking. A mix of civic, institutional, commercial and residential uses should line important streets and public spaces. Ideally, this “Downtown-to-the Hill” district will provide both an extension of the Downtown and integration with the Upper Hill and Trowbridge Square - creating a smooth transition between the two. Chapel West and the Audobon-Whitney Districts essentially do this for Dwight-Kensington and SoHu, respectively.

posted by: Nathan on March 21, 2013  2:47am

“Especially now that young people and seniors have been moving into the city and seem to want to live near the center of activity without relying on cars.”

As a gateway from Union Station, I would like to see Church Street South area dramatically improved.  I think it’s possible to do so without the grand vision presented here by razing the (private) housing project and creating safe, beautiful walkways.  But any plan for making all the admittedly ugly parking lots disappear without new parking as a part of the development would undercut business and residential needs and be a potential failure.

You can’t tell people what they want - if you want them to be consumers of new housing or businesses, you need to figure some way to compromise and harmonize the grand visions with the reality of consumer choice.  Most people are choosing to stick with their motor vehicles in our area and they want, despite the objections of the New Urbanists that regularly flood the comments of NHI, safe and close parking.  Hidden parking in new buildings might work.

It is a small portion of people that have moved into New Haven to be able to live without a vehicle.  In part, this is because - as almost everyone on all sides of this issue agree - the existing public transportation infrastructure needs improvement.  But, even with those potential improvements, there are other complex barriers to “selling” increased use of such transportation.

One only needs to look at the traffic jams in the area of the new Gateway facility - especially during rush hours and just before class periods - to understand that failure to realistically plan for motor vehicle use leads to problems rather than solutions.  The existing bad situation may be even worse once the connector project takes place.

So, it’s a balancing act that the city planning and development team faces.  For all of the fun reminiscing about the good old days in that area - something that at times relies far more on nostalgia than accurate history (e.g. tannery dumping in the river, some of the area razed for the Rt 34 connector had descended into slum status after the later generations exodus to the west suburbs, etc.) - to figure how private investment can be attracted to development prospects that have a clear, compelling chance of success attracting residents and consumers.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on March 21, 2013  9:06am

And after THAT ... if something could be done about the unforgivable slicing and dicing of the 9th-Square-Wooster Square neighborhood, first by the railroad tracks way back when, then by I-91, I-95, the Q Bridge approaches, and the Rte 34 ramp.  It’s only gotten worse.

The folks who live in Celetano senior housing and the mixed-income housing on Wooster Street and Olive Street have no corner store of any kind where they can conveniently shop for the ordinary necessities of life.  Now that the umpteenth restaurant at the corner of Olive and Water Streets has gone under, maybe a family-owned drugstore and/or small grocery could make a go of that spot?  Or even (heaven help us) a Walgreens or CVS?  Yeah, I know ... but they do have their place.  We all shop at them. 

I worked on Olive Street for nearly 30 years and would have greatly welcomed a handy store down the block, for everything from a snack to personal items, tools, office supplies, you name it.

posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2013  11:47am

Nice article, but the potential of this area was seriously compromised when the City moved forward with its disastrous plan to make the city streets that comprise Route 34 even wider than they already are. 

Maybe our grandchildren’s generation will be able to fix DeStefano’s mistakes.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 21, 2013  12:16pm

Can you point to anyone that has ever called for the city to adopt a zoning amendment that does not meet the demand for parking? I’ve heard some people call for reductions in minimum parking requirements, or elimination of any parking requirements, and instead instituting parking maximums, but that just leaves the actual developer to decide how much parking their project needs, rather than the city dictating it - a practice that is a remnant of the urban renewal era, which is lambasted in this article.

I take the position that we should provide just barely enough parking to meet demand with a tiny bit of wiggle room to accommodate 1-2% above demand. A parking strategy like this would have a few structured parking garages strategically located throughout a given site (roughly 600-1000 feet apart so that no destination is more than 300-500 feet from a parking facility) that are nearly full at all times of the day - residents at night and workers during the day. On-street parking would be metered and there to serve visitors and shoppers that have a high-turn over rate.
Alternatively, we can continue doing what we’ve been doing, which is to require that each new development has dedicated off-street parking to serve its peak demand use. This strategy results in a gross overabundance of parking infrastructure, which degrades the public realm and creates environments that people don’t like being in. For an example of this type of landscape, look at the area described in this article. In this area during the day, much of the parking is occupied by commuters, but at night its a vast, abandoned wasteland. This land-use is massively inefficient.

posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2013  12:49pm

Its good to hear these 2 talking like this, even if they are a little late to the game.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 21, 2013  1:52pm

As was posted in the Star Supply thread, the census reports around 100,000 people in New Haven 18 or above, and 41,000 vehicles.  It also reported around 63% of residents report driving alone or in a carpool to work, leaving near a 1/3 of the city walking, biking or on a bus. Obviously plenty of people in New Haven are in fact living without a car, or having to share cars and the number has only risen in the past decade as cities around the country have tried to get more people out of their cars. I’m sorry you may actually have to walk a few blocks to your final destination.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on March 21, 2013  2:37pm

Good article speaks a lot about the big problem we have in New Haven. I don’t think I have to explain much. Because obviously we all well know how much is affecting our life style when we travel from point A to point B.

I just want to quote Ms. Murphy words. “It that looks Urban to you? or Mr. Johnson’s “Again is a life style”

please take a look on these photos. There are from the corner of a brand new school and a well know business Avenue. Priorities people. We residents see this every where. How you think this affects the community with their ” life style” and how Urban environment you feel when you walk by everyday?

The worst part, we spoke with LCI about this problem. All still the same.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 21, 2013  3:24pm

What are an anti-blight agency head and Economic Development doing envisioning a new neighborhood?
      City officials do not have a great record of designing much in the City - see the demolished Coliseum, Route 95 that cuts us off from the water (so we could become a retail destination) and the destruction of the vibrant neighborhood that became the Rte 34 wasteland or our own personal Fort Trumbull (see eminent domain in New London).
      There is a need for community based community planning that involves the citizens who live and work in New Haven. That would include the zoning officials, Ct Historic Trust, Special Districts, District Management Teams and neighborhood associations, together with professional planners who could design to meet the needs of the people.
      You can’t simply drop in on an area and tell people what will happen without expecting some push back.
      Is there some reason we can’t be collaborative?
      We need solid objectives for all of New Haven on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
      Perhaps Economic Development and LCI will lead the charge?

posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2013  3:41pm

Madcap, the citywide figures are skewed by areas like East Shore and outer Westville where families have 2-3 cars. In Downtown fewer than 20% drive alone to work, and in East Rock it is fewer than 45% of workers who drive.  That figure of course does not include Yale undergraduates, senior citizens who don’t work, children, unemployed people, etc.  So, wealthy NIMBYs aside, the reality is that the vast majority of New Haven doesn’t drive to a job every day, and in the central neighborhoods it is an overwhelming share that doesn’t.

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 21, 2013  4:46pm

This is very good news. The area between Union Station and the hospital complex truly is a no-mans land: The urban equivalent of fly-over territory between “here” and “there”.

I would caution against an MDP or some other big plan approach because this area, like Rt. 34 West is just too large to master plan. Redevelopment will take a very long time and will happen in response to market forces, external events, and many other unforeseen things that can, and will, run counter to the best laid master plan. I think the best places are always organic.

In my opinion the end result should be a good form-based code. Good building form, a thoughtful rearrangement of blocks and streets and a flexible use table would allow many different uses to come and go in an organic response to circumstances. As a quick guess I would say this area should be rezoned somewhere between a T4 and T5, having elements of both a neighborhood center and downtown.

ps. Let’s not forget Rt. 34 West. Its’ still the largest chunk of vacant, developable land in the City. Scrap the MDP approach, rezone it and let development happen as it will.

posted by: Nathan on March 21, 2013  11:15pm

“Can you point to anyone that has ever called for the city to adopt a zoning amendment that does not meet the demand for parking?”

How about the two city officials in this video, lead all the way by Paul Bass in this opinion piece?  It’s rather curious to hear the prompting for the desired responses.

“I take the position that we should provide just barely enough parking to meet demand with a tiny bit of wiggle room to accommodate 1-2% above demand. A parking strategy like this would have a few structured parking garages strategically located throughout a given site…”

“Alternatively, we can continue doing what we’ve been doing, which is to require that each new development has dedicated off-street parking to serve its peak demand use. This strategy results in a gross overabundance of parking infrastructure, which degrades the public realm and creates environments that people don’t like being in.”

Such an approach keeps the same footprint and is attractive to renters because of the convenience - some people DO like those environments with respect to the building itself.  That’s not what is currently in place in that area - I’m not suggesting that massive flat parking areas are optimal for anything, just that the capacity is needed in some form or another, either your local cluster vision or per building within the footprint.

Thanks for your comments and arguments - I’ve enjoyed watching your concepts evolve over the years and really have interest in many of your grand plans, even if I can’t figure out how they would be implemented in reality.

posted by: Nathan on March 21, 2013  11:26pm

“the potential of this area was seriously compromised when the City moved forward with its disastrous plan to make the city streets that comprise Route 34 even wider than they already are. “

Then I look forward to “anonymous” support of my suggestions that the new “boulevard” could be narrowed if the two lanes (was a single lane in earlier plans - I argued for two) in each direction remain throughways for traffic entering and exiting next to the Air Rights Garage rather than be exclusively for the garage traffic.  No new work needed - the ramps are already there an in heavy use daily.  It seems absurd to dump that volume of traffic off a single exit - look at rush hour and see how many vehicles are going to be combined, which is why they needed to make the new upper road so wide.  The best compromise that gets everyone most of what they want seems to be elimination of exit 2 at the new building site, preservation of exit 3 for both garage and upper street traffic bypass, and keeping the upper street three lanes wide with improved pedestrian infrastructure.

posted by: P Christopher Ozyck on March 22, 2013  11:47am

Great to see decision makers out walking an area they are thinking about. Many planners are too busy and rely on maps and windshield surveys.  Evaluating uses different times of day and days of the week helps too.  Key informants from the neighborhood can tell you a lot too. 
Investment follows infrastructure -Amistad park is good start, roads and pedestrian amenities need rethinking , get zoning changed where needed ahead of redevelopment. Provide carrots and sticks for desired projects.- these are what the city can do.

posted by: Curious on March 22, 2013  12:12pm

Wait…“lots” of opportunity.  I see what you did there :)

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 22, 2013  1:04pm

There’s an enormous difference between shared parking facilities and on-site parking for each individual lot. The latter often results in a 300-400% over supply of parking in the system overall.

Think of a typical residential lot in the city for a two-family house where there are two off-street parking spaces in a rear garage and room for 2 cars in front of the building on the street. If each unit has 2 cars, then at night the supply of parking matches exactly with the demand. If each unit has 1 car, then there is an over supply of roughly 200% (less if you account for occasional visitors, etc.). During the day if everyone commutes and there are no cars parked then there is an oversupply of daytime parking just at this one residential lot by 400%. For corner lots, or properties where people don’t own cars the numbers are higher. This is true of commercial, institutional, and civic/public land uses as well where parking is provided on each individual lot for each individual use. If we separately provide parking at everyone’s residence, at everyone’s workplace, at everyone’s shopping destinations, and at everyone’s recreational facilities then that means there are about 4 parking spaces for every car or 400% more parking than there is demand to fill it except for a few hours a day.

We obviously can’t have less parking accommodations than we have demand because then cars would have to park in the middle of the street, or drive around indefinitely looking for spots. We also can’t continue to oversupply parking by 400, 300, 200 or even 150% because it is destructive to the environment, is visually unattractive, and is massively wasteful of valuable land. If we were to add up all off-street and on-street parking spaces in the city and compare that to the number of parked cars at a given time during the day, the gap would be astronomical.

posted by: streever on March 23, 2013  11:25pm

This is a bit late to the game, isn’t it? I think I heard similar proposals from Anstress a decade ago.

What I find truly amusing about the tone from the city folks is the dismissiveness of the urban renewal planners. When Olmstead and Morris first scoped Route 34, do not kid yourself, they did not imagine what we got in the 50s.

Our city leaders need some serious lessons in New Haven history. They believe that the problems purely arise from the 1950s urban renewal, and don’t realize that the planners of the 50s were just making the same mistakes that our leaders are making now: poorly budgeting and managing the resources needed to achieve the visionary ideas of planners from the 1920s.

Route 34 did not develop into the current incarnation through a desire to build a blighted wasteland. It happened despite good intentions, hard work, and good hearts. We need people who know what they are doing to actually fix our mess.

posted by: -30- on March 24, 2013  12:35pm

Great great history about urban renewal in the Hill, and a hopeful vision forrestoring some of what was lost.  I hope that in the walkabout the neighborhood Johnson and Murphy are visiting with residents, housing associations (such as Liberty Square) and small business owners about their roles and hopes in further development. 

It would also seem that the city began healing some of the isolation caused by the connector when it opened a new, beautiful library branch within walking distance of Church St. South, Tower One, the Yale medical complex, three public schools, shelters, day cares and the Hill health center.  I hope that Murphy and Johnson spend some time in the library, Courtland S. Wilson branch, and examine how it serves as a powerful hub of community for this portion of the Hill. Development in this part of the Hill will be further enhanced by using and investing in this asset.  Perhaps the branch, and all branches, will eventually be opened more than closed and fully staffed so that the capacity of their services meets the potential of their buildings.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 24, 2013  2:33pm

Most of the visionary urban designers though of the 1920’s were people who laid the groundwork for Urban Renewal since they of course saw the car as the future as more and more people started owning them. Having such a dismissive tone against Urban Renewal is completely appropriate. I won’t say its universal, but its near universal in agreement that Urban Renewal projects usually ranged between a failure in the sense it didn’t improve things, or an unmitigated disaster. Urban Renewal whether it was how we designed streets and parking, to how we designed public housing structures. It’s not like this is a recent analysis. Urban Renewal died the moment Jane Jacobs took on Robert Moses and only one of them came out of alive(metaphorically). The government even basically admitted to this when within a few years after that they were already tearing down some of what was supposed to be Urban Renewals best efforts.(Pruit Igoe most famously comes to mind, which is also ironically around the same time Richard Lee’s public support had faded). The problem after all that was for 20-30 years the feds just really didn’t care about cities period. Ask an urban planner what the main goal of current urban design is, and 4 out of 5 times the answer will be “Reversing Urban Renewal”. It’s something that is going to take decades for cities to recover from, and frankly New Haven is in a much better position than most. Minus the area around Rt.34, we never created vast plains of parking lots all around the city, build that many strip malls or housing units with vast no man lands in between them.

posted by: streever on March 24, 2013  5:17pm

you are right!

My point is not *for* urban renewal, but about the irony of city hall—which spends 99% of transportation money on cars—thinking that good intentions are enough as they slag off their forerunners.

The planners of the 20s & 50s had great intentions as they dedicated 99% of spending toward the automobile as well.

posted by: ElmCity on March 24, 2013  10:56pm

I am not going to applaud any city employee for doing there job. I see plenty of people from LCI walking around town. Not sure exactly how they’re combating blight. To think they know anything about urban planning is absurd. I have a hard time coming up with many examples of success stories coming out of Economic Development. They certainly should not be working with LCI if they need advice. Everything they said in article is regurgitated academic urban planning dogma that’s been around for the last 20 years. But we still need another million dollar study.

posted by: ElmCity on March 24, 2013  10:59pm

In the order of expediency and new enterprise I would propose new zoning for Church Street South and the route 34 corridor be effective immediately based not necessarily on what a buildings should be used for, but on how the building walkways and roads are situated. Begin eminent domain action against anyone who stands in the way of street connections and complete them. Since it is impossible to get rid of the public housing complex on Church and Union, level the police station and move it and create your connection to the train station from Orange. With the changed zoning, new street walkway configuration paid by the city, state, etc… newly acquired city land from eminent domain, and built in incentive for parking lot owners and landowners to sell perhaps things could move along in our lifetime. Cities are not rocket science. A simple grid gets you half way there. Continue to draw the grid in and finally connect the best train station in Connecticut to downtown. Put lots up for sale to anyone who wants to build there own townhouse, or multi-family, or restaurant, or start up. Zone for 4 floors with restrictions on facade and street setbacks and don’t worry about parking or what type of use it will be. Let it grow organically. Public sector employees with no real vested interest have a very low probability of success. Open it up to the paying citizens and let them decide. New Haven bureaucrats are always looking for one almighty developer. Why? Why not hundreds of small developers.

posted by: anonymous on March 25, 2013  11:50am

ElmCity: You are correct that connecting downtown to the train station is a top priority for the city and for social justice. Doing so would raise land value to the point where it would be economically feasible for developers to provide affordable housing units, and a connected grid could reduce families’ transportation costs substantially as well and create many jobs for city residents. 

Unfortunately, the DeStefano plan going into construction right now is a step in the wrong direction, widening the road despite testimony from hundreds of citizens who wanted a healthier and more walkable urban place. At the very least, it is a missed opportunity that, like Mayor Lee’s plan, will take another generation of city residents to undo and correct.