“Why It Now Must Go”

Paul Bass PhotoNew Haven’s knitting itself back together—and the region back together.

Mayor Toni Harp offered that long view Monday of why a fence is coming down on the New Haven-Hamden border.

That’s the long view Mayor Toni Harp offered Monday of why a fence is coming down on the New Haven-Hamden border.

It was an historic occasion, a half-century in the making: A construction crew demolish the first 30-foot segment of a 1,500-foot, 10-foot high fence that has separated Hamden from New Haven’s West Rock neighborhood for a half-century. Read all about that here and here.

Elected officials who give routine public remarks on a daily basis tend to reach higher on occasions like Monday’s, to brand memorable moments with their broader vision. At a press conference immediately before Monday’s fence-segment demolition, Harp—who played a key personal role in the decision to finally start taking down the fence—sought to put the event in the context of New Haven’s approach to remaking public-housing developments around town, to economic development in general, and to its relationship with its suburban neighbors. Here’s what she said:

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This fence has been a very real presence in this neighborhood for decades. In that time, it has been a real inconvenience. Over time, it has become an increasingly real public safety concern, with harsh weather in recent years isolating and trapping residents – all because of this fence.

One irony I see in this: the very real fence and its very real consequences are because of a completely arbitrary boundary – an imaginary line dividing two jurisdictions. Decades ago, someone decided this imaginary line, intended to divide neighboring jurisdictions, should be used to separate them.

I reject that premise. Today I am very excited that the fence that has separated and inconvenienced and intimidated residents all these years is coming down. Today I am very excited by the prospect that we will begin stitching this community back together again.

As New Haven’s new mayor I have less interest in why this fence was built than I do in why it now must go. New Haven is the hub of a vital region – Hamden is a vitally important component of the region we all call home.

Other projects in New Haven are now meant to knit our community together: 100 College Street will reunite downtown with the hospital and medical community; Route 34 West will bridge neighborhoods separated for decades by an urban renewal miscalculation; plans for a Hill-to-Downtown project will smooth the connection between Union Station and the rest of the city. 

Throughout my public service in our region – on the Board of Aldermen, as a state senator, and now as mayor – I have learned how many shared interests New Haven and Hamden have. I know residents on both sides of this imaginary line believe in justice, fairness, equal access and equal opportunity.

Elimination of this fence provides for all those ideals.

But at its core, the change we embrace today is about an important practical solution to provide families access to their homes, and easier access to and from their neighborhood.

Going forward, my vision for this area includes a new partnership in which joint block watches and joint community activities allow children to play together readily, with shared peace of mind among their parents.

I look forward to working with Hamden toward joint, community-based policing, and I am committed to ensuring that New Haven housing authority works with all members of this community to keep everyone current with plans and progress.

Removal of this fence today eliminates one more reason for our towns to be apart, and different. Removal of this fence eliminates one more reason for residents of this area to feel separated and isolated.

Most importantly, removal of this fence today provides the next reason for our neighboring towns – and their residents – to feel connected, united, and part of something greater. I’m grateful to be part of this historic event today.

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posted by: ElmCityVoice on May 13, 2014  7:20am

Congratulations Mayor Harp. This should have happened years ago.

posted by: robn on May 13, 2014  8:11am

It’s a chain link fence. Send a couple of guys with wire clippers and sawzall a already. Seems like politicians are tripping over themselves to mug for the camera and speechify. Was a medic on hand in case anyone broke their ankle?