Raze? Preserve? Or Renew?

When a Boston not-for-profit this week suggested buying and perhaps preserving the troubled Church Street South apartment complex, critics from many corners called tearing it all down instead. It turns out that a third, hybrid option may make the most sense.

The future of the crumbling subsidized 301-unit complex across from the train station—aka “The Jungle”—has become a matter of urgent debate in recent months as officials scramble to find new homes for all the families there so they can flee hazardous living conditions. A consensus has emerged among the developer, many tenants, and city officials that the complex has deteriorated so badly that it must all come down, with a new development built in its place.

Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), a Boston-based not-for-profit affordable housing development organization, contacted the current owner, Northland Investment Corporation, this week seeking to purchase Church Street South. POAH told the Independent it would look at whether it might make sense to rebuild the whole complex rather than tear it down, though it would be open to either option. (Northland, meanwhile, said it’s not selling.)

Church Street South is a privately owned and managed project-based low-income housing development located on a superblock bounded by Union Avenue, Church Street South, South Orange Street, and South Frontage Road across from Union Station. Constructed in 1969, the housing project was designed between 1966 and 1968 by the world-renowned architecture firm MLTW/Moore-Turnbull, which was headed by the then-dean of Yale’s Architecture School, Charles Moore. Church Street South was plagued by problems throughout its planning and construction –  indicative of the severe problems that emerged soon after the development’s completion, then worsened in the 1980s, and have finally come to a head recently.

The origin of Church Street South can be traced to New Haven’s urban redevelopment program of the 1950s and 1960s. In the wake of World War Two, America’s cities were in a state of decay – congested with traffic, losing population and jobs to suburbs, and filled with obsolete infrastructure of a declining industrial era. In response, Congress passed a National Housing Act in 1949, which provided federal funding to municipalities for slum clearance and redevelopment projects. In 1954, a Highway Act provided additional funds to State Departments of Transportation to use in constructing the Interstate Highway System through cities, towns, and countrysides.

In New Haven, Mayor Richard C. Lee’s Redevelopment Agency, headed by Edward Logue, coordinated with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to plan highway construction and urban redevelopment in the center of the city. With 1955’s Church Street Project, the Redevelopment Agency sought to demolish a large swath of the city center between the Green and Union Station. At the time, the area was populated with mixed-use commercial buildings, warehouses, whole sale markets, small homes, and a dense network of irregular streets. To replace this viable though declining area, city planners envisioned an indoor shopping mall on the Green, downtown parking garages, highway ramps, office buildings, a civic center, a police headquarters, and a new high school, medical buildings, and commercial park lining a new boulevard extending Church Street to Union Avenue.

All was eventually realized except for the commercial park, which hadn’t attracted the necessary investors to develop the site located amid the train station, Church Street South, the Oak Street Connector, and South Orange Street.

As a result of lacking interest in commercial development for the area and the need to include housing development as part of federal legislation, New Haven’s Church Street Project was amended in 1965 to replace the commercial park with housing and a school. Initially, German-born Modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was hired to design luxury housing, a school, and a new train station in a series of high-rise towers and low-rise buildings set in wide open green spaces and parking lots. By 1967, however, the school and train station program had been cut from the project and the arrangement with Mies fell apart. To revive the project, Charles Moore was brought in to design a more contextual mixed-income housing development.

The Concrete Jungle

Between 1966 and 1969 Moore’s firm produced 32 different site plans during the design process for the housing development, which included a 20-story 217-unit tower of rent-subsidized elderly housing to be managed privately, an 8-story 93-unit tower of elderly public housing to be operated by the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH), and 400 units of low- and moderate-income family housing in 3- and 4-story buildings to be funded through Section 122 and privately owned.

The final site plan called for a central pedestrian spine connecting Union Station to Tower One and Church Street South and lined by community and retail buildings around plazas with low-rise residential buildings enclosing green spaces.

Charles Moore originally wanted commercial space throughout the development to activate public spaces and provide access to goods and services for residents, but a miniscule budget and federal agency red tape at the time prevented adequate retail space from being included in the project. Moore also wanted to design a narrow roadway leading from the train station across the Oak Street Connector through the complex, but the city’s then-head traffic engineer required all city streets to be a minimum of 36 feet, which precluded the architect’s favored design – resulting in the narrow street becoming a pedestrian-only path instead.

Moore also anticipated the construction of a city-planned Ring Road around downtown that would bring traffic through the complex along a widened Columbus Avenue – prompting Moore to propose a pedestrian bridge crossing over a roadway that never ended up being built.

The nearby Tower One and the Robert T. Wolfe high-rises were completed as planned by 1971, while the low-rise Church Street South complex had encountered a number of problems during construction.

First, the developer made a last-minute materials change that required buildings that had been designed for pre-cast concrete construction with brick masonry end walls and wooden railings to be constructed with concrete masonry units and metal railings instead.

Second, the last 99 units that were planned for moderate-income families were never constructed on the north end of the site around Tower Lane.

Lastly, when the contractor ran out of the money, the Federal Housing Administration refused to provide additional funding to build the communal green spaces of the complex, which required funding to be sought from programs intended for public parks.

In the end, Church Street South was built with a deficient amount of commercial space, no moderate-income units, flat roofs, exposed surface parking lots across from Union Station, no through streets, and monotonous construction materials

Fueled by its isolation, several design flaws, and a homogenous low-income population, Church Street South became home to one of New Haven’s most violent drug gangs of the 1980s and 1990s, the Jungle Boys. Though the gang was largely dismantled by a joint federal, state, and local law enforcement criminal investigation in 1992, the housing development has remained crime=plagued despite being located within a block of the New Haven Police Department headquarters. Publicly-accessible green spaces and plazas devoid of commercial storefronts offer prime real estate for drug dealing, while hidden corners, alley ways, and dead-end streets make the complex difficult to navigate and patrol.

Not only is Church Street South difficult to traverse. But as a result of its being surrounded by dangerous arterial roadways and highways, destinations outside of the complex are even more difficult to access.

To make matters worse, the housing development is located in one the most polluted areas of the region.

Exacerbating these intrinsic design flaws and entrenched socio-economic problems has been a lack of routine maintenance performed on the complex throughout its history. Since 1969, Church Street South has been operated by a series of private managers, from its first owners, the Greater New Haven Jaycees, to the most recent, Massachusetts-based Northland Investment Corporation, which acquired the complex in 2008. These private organizations have proven themselves to be no better at managing low-income housing projects than HANH was in the 1990s, an organization that until recently was rife with corruption allegations, audited by the federal government for siphoning off maintenance funds, and allowed its housing developments to decline rapidly.

In New Haven’s climate, which is characterized by intense freezing and thawing cycles and high humidity, Church Street South’s flat roofs have decayed quickly due to a lack of maintenance—leading to leaks, water damage, drainage issues, and mold growth. The complex’s mechanical system is also outdated, as evidenced by frequent problems with faulty furnaces, which have been known to leak carbon monoxide into apartments.

Problems in the housing project have been well-documented throughout its history from the 1970s until today. Architect Larry Speck photographed the complex soon after its construction, revealing deserted plazas and graffiti. The 1984 book Architect: The Life and Work of Charles W. Moore by arts critic David Littlejohn noted the empty communal spaces, broken lamps, and unbuilt northern end. Journalist William Finnegan wrote the 1998 book Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country, which explores the violent, illegal drug trade throughout New Haven in the late 1980s, including in The Jungle. In his 2003 book City: Urbanism and Its End, Yale professor Douglas Rae described the complex as “concentrating the very poor in large numbers [to] serve a similar function in the local housing market” as segregated public housing managed by HANH. In recent years, local news media outlets have documented ongoing problems facing tenants at the complex. (See links to the New Haven Independent’s ongoing coverage at the bottom of this article.)

The Case For Renovation

Considering Church Street South’s numerous problems, one might initially scoff at the offer by Boston-based POAH to work towards renovating the existing housing complex. But further analysis of the housing development’s superb – though flawed—design reveals that this proposal is not that far-fetched.

Church Street South wasn’t designed by some inexperienced architecture firm. Nor was it planned in a repetitious, barracks-style like the low-income public housing projects of Elm Haven, Farnam Courts, and Quinnipiac Terrace of a generation earlier. At the time of its completion, Charles Moore’s design received a wide array of praise from numerous sources, including the professional architectural journal, “Progressive Architecture,” which gave the development a cover story in its May 1972 issue; Don Metz, architect and author, whose 1973 book on New Haven’s Modern architecture described the complex as “a cohesive urban environment”; and venerable New Haven architectural historian Elizabeth Mills Brown, who described Church Street South in her 1976 book New Haven: A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design as “a civilized urban environment [with] much to study and enjoy.”

A closer look at the site and unit plans reveals why the complex received such high design praise.

Aside from the lot across from Union Station, all of the parking for the complex is hidden from the street in rear lots or tucked underneath buildings – making parking no more than a few steps from tenants’ doors. Large public green spaces and playgrounds are overlooked by housing units with private balconies, individual entryways, and private front or rear yards – a stark contrast to the ambiguous open spaces and communal hallways of the city’s soviet-style 1940s-era public housing projects.

Exciting and dynamic spaces are formed by controlled views towards the Knights of Columbus Tower, Tower One, Union Station, the Robert T. Wolfe Tower, and various green spaces. Pedestrian paths and courtyards lead to a small grocery, laundry facilities, management office, and community room in the center for the complex. The buildings have been designed in a Modern style but include traditional elements such as quoining, cornices, and two-over-two double-hung windows that recall the details of Cass Gilbert’s Union Station and Public Library. The units themselves are efficient and large—ranging from 1- to 5-bedrooms in either an apartment flat or duplex-style. The complex is also close to both Downtown and Union Station.

While there is much to admire about the design and location of Church Street South Housing, these positive qualities are nevertheless overshadowed by the development’s sizable problems. As a result, even if we assume excellent management practices, any attempt by POAH to renovate the existing complex as is would likely result in the inevitable return of familiar problems due to Church Street South’s intrinsic design flaws.

One way to address these flaws would be to redevelop the entire 11.82-acre site with new mixed-income, mixed-use construction, which is precisely what the current owner of the complex, Northland, proposed to do in 2012 and what the city, HANH, and Northland are again proposing now.

A New Church Street South Redevelopment Project

Redeveloping Church Street South offers the opportunity to imagine an entirely different architectural and community character in a vital area of the city right by one of the busiest train stations in the U.S., which is serviced by the busiest passenger railroad service in the country, a burgeoning medical district around Amistad Park, and a revitalizing downtown.

A new public square or park near Union Station would greet travelers. A logical street pattern could orient visitors and help them to better navigate to their destinations. A comprehensive parking and transportation plan might alleviate parking problems at the train station. And new construction offers the opportunity for better mechanical systems, integration of incomes, and an inspiring architectural statement for our time.

Important aspects of any new design would include drawing inspiration from Cass Gilbert’s Beaux Arts Renaissance Revival-style Union Station of 1918 and careful study of the City’s Union Square master plan from the Hill-to-Downtown Community Plan, which called for new streets, the creation of a new Trowbridge Square-like public park on axis with the trail station, and 6-story mid-rise mixed-use commercial office, retail, and residential buildings with hidden, structured parking. The public park could be created by exchanging existing city-owned land on the site for land that Northland owns.

Relocating most of the existing Church Street South tenants with portable Section 8 vouchers while providing some subsidized units as part of new mostly market rate housing would undoubtedly address much of social homogeneity that currently exists on the site. It would also give families the opportunity to move away from a highly polluted area. Furthermore, people would more easily be able to traverse the site and be more likely to spend time in nearby shops if a populated public space existed near the train station. Lastly, redevelopment might spur further growth in and around the medical district.

However, while redevelopment of the entire site seems like the best available option because of its numerous benefits, there are several potential problems that would arise from razing the existing complex and rebuilding entirely anew.

For starters, relocating all 288 current residents in a short amount of time is guaranteed to result in some existing tenants getting housed in many of the region’s numerous substandard slumlord-owned rental units that accept Section 8 vouchers. Not to mention the enormous amount of resources and time that goes into such a relocation endeavor – for reference, it took HANH over 15 years to find 183 scattered site housing units in non-impacted neighborhoods in the wake a 1995 court-ordered settlement resulting from the mismanagement of the Elm Haven high-rises.

Moreover, new development in the city has tended to be cheap podium-style buildings consisting of a concrete base for retail and parking with 4 or 5 stories of double-loaded residential corridors oriented around courtyards and constructed in wood light frame. These new apartments have also tended to be very small studio, 1- and 2-bedroom units with limited private outdoor space aimed at single, young professionals and empty-nesters – not exactly the demographic of the existing low-income resident nor a typical household in the region.

Lastly, if Northland’s 2012 proposal is any indication of what to expect for a redeveloped Church Street South Housing, we will see 600-800 residential units, 20 to 30 percent of which would be set aside as affordable housing for households with less than 60 percent of the area median income of $ 57,700, and 200,000 to 400,000 square feet of office and retail space. Northland’s 2012 proposal includes minimal green space, large exposed parking facilities, bland plaza spaces, and an uninspired architectural language. Needless to say, redeveloping Church Street South poses a number of potential problems that may in fact be avoidable were a third option for the site available.

Renewing Church Street South

Without a doubt, there appears to be unanimous consensus from city officials, tenants, neighbors, and designers that Church Street South should not continue in its current state for much longer. The buildings are in disrepair, children are suffering from health issues related to mold, crime is rampant in the complex, the site is vastly underused, and the development is largely seen as an eyesore in the center of the city.

I do not believe, however, that the entire existing Church Street South complex needs to be demolished and rebuilt in order to address these problems.

Urban Redevelopment projects in the 1950s and 1960s showed the shaky moral ground on which large-scale demolition and rebuilding programs operate. Are we really prepared to demolish another large swath of the city, throwing away a piece of our shared heritage and built legacy, in the name of so-called progress? The buildings are less than 50 years old; how can we justify destroying all the embodied energy that went into constructing this complex? Both Tower One and the Robert T. Wolfe high-rises were built at the same time and have been successfully renovated in recent years.

As a significant architectural statement of early Post-Modernism built during urban renewal, Church Street South would most definitely be eligible for placement on the National and State Register of Historic Places in 2019, which would qualify the complex for significant state and federal tax credits for rehabilitation work.

Furthermore, I imagine that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would have an interest in preserving affordable housing units for low-income families in large apartments with private and communal outdoor space with convenient access to transit, parks, jobs, services, and cultural venues, and thus be willing to provide financial assistance for a renovation effort.

Both the housing project’s numerous intrinsic design flaws and the site’s need for more high-intensity land use can be addressed through a series of relatively easy and straight-forward initiatives.

Firstly, to provide a means for navigating through the site and constructing new, high-density development, several existing buildings on the site will need to be surgically demolished to make room for reconnected through streets, new development lots, and to remove hidden corners and alley ways.

Where an existing Tower One parking lot, and Church Street South playground, basketball court, and 3-story apartment building are located along South Orange Street, either a 200-unit 6-story mixed-use podium-style courtyard apartment building could be constructed or a 500-unit 360 State-style high-rise could be built provided that appropriate land swaps and parking accommodations are made with Tower One.

Next, Tower Lane can be extended as a 42-to-36-foot wide street from Church Street South to Union Avenue if the existing commercial and community spaces along the central plaza are demolished.

Additionally, Columbus Avenue can be reopened to traffic between the new Tower Lane and South Orange Street. West Water Street could also be extended to Tower Lane and South Orange Street, which will be reconnected across the former Oak Street Connector thanks to state funding.

Also vital to these new connections is the redesign of Church Street South, South Orange Street, and Union Avenue ase multimodal avenues for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, and drivers by adding dedicated left-hand turn lanes, planted medians, curb bump outs, bus-only lanes, narrow travel lanes, and protected bike lanes.

New multi-story commercial office buildings above retail and parking can be constructed along Union Avenue across from the train station on top of existing surface parking lots. Building new 5- and 6-story mixed use residential buildings above retail along Tower Lane could include a cut-through to Jose Marti Court. A small plaza lined by retail frontage can be created across from the train station at Union Avenue and Tower Lane. Constructing new townhouses along Columbus Avenue similar to what has been built at Eastview Terrace can face the street and back up to the rear yards of existing apartment buildings. Additional townhouses can be built along Church Street South and the Little Green. Enclosing the existing courtyards with tasteful fencing and gates accessible only to residents would reduce the sale of drugs and other illegal activities within the complex perpetrated by outsiders.

The existing apartments could be renovated for a mix of market rate rentals and subsidized units that include new roof decks or pitched roofs in order to reduce drainage issues and compliment Church Street South’s Georgian architectural design features similar to Quinnipiac Terrace, Farnam Courts, and McConaughey Terrace.

A similar renovation effort was achieved with the nearly identical 4-story low-income housing cooperative, Trade Union Plaza, which was constructed of concrete block in 1968, has parking located below apartments with private balconies around an interior green, and was recently turned into market rate rental housing by a private developer. The main different between Trade Union Plaza and Church Street South Housing being that the former isn’t designed nearly as well as the latter.

In summary, renewing the existing Church Street South complex with some renovation, surgical demolition, and new construction has the benefits of preserving an important work of architecture, reusing 50 years’ worth of embodied energy, capturing the demand for new growth in the area, maintaining large units for families near Downtown, enclosing interior green spaces, integrating different income groups, adding commercial space to the site, addressing the design flaws of the complex, and vastly improving the street network around and through the development. Additionally, many of the existing units can be maintained for low-income families, which could aid in the relocation process should the renovation work be done in phases.

This renewal proposal calls for the surgical demolition of around 30 existing housing units, which can be replaced with 30 new townhouse units. Additionally, 300 mid-rise or 100 mid-rise and 500 high-rise new market rate apartment units can be built on the existing site. Under this proposal, there is room for 600-900 new or renovated studio, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5-bedroom apartments, including 120-270 subsidized units, 150,000 square feet of commercial retail and office space, and ample private and communal outdoor space.

There are a few downsides to this approach, which include only having a small public plaza near the train station, rather than the Trowbridge Square-sized park proposed by the city – though that park and Amistad Park are a short two-block walk from Church Street South and the existing apartment buildings include front and rear yards, communal green spaces, courtyards, private balconies, and could potentially have roof decks as well.

In this scheme, Tower Lane is narrow at only 36 feet, which doesn’t allow room for dedication cycling infrastructure, but Church Street South, South Orange Street, and Union Avenue could be retrofitted for such infrastructure. Some existing parking would be removed, but there would be opportunities for new parking to be constructed next to Union Station, or in a new residential building to offset that loss.

This proposal also won’t address the issue of pollution in the area, which may actually worsen in the immediate future as a diesel-powered high-speed train is proposed from New Haven to Hartford. But adequate plantings, green space, in-home air filters, and the benefits of being able to walk, use transit, and bike in the area would likely offset the negative impacts of pollution for children and adults.

Emerging from The Jungle

Absent from recent discussions about the future of Church Street South has been a call for renewing the existing complex through a combination of renovation, surgical demolition, and new construction. Both the suggestion by POAH to renovate the existing complex as is and Northland’s proposal to redevelop the entire site fail to grasp the unique design issues and successes of Charles Moore’s brilliant yet flawed housing complex.

I hope that this article will inspire a feasibility study into whether or not much of the existing complex is capable of being renovated. I suspect it is ,considering that Trade Union Plaza, a similar complex built in 1968 on Dwight Street, was recently converted from a low-income housing cooperative into market rate rental units by a private company.

Utilities and other services would also need to be studied in order to determine if new construction is possible on the site without demolishing much of the existing housing. Ultimately, I believe that I have presented a compelling argument to induce further study of the existing Church Street South Housing development.

In closing, I hope to hear from the Housing Authority of New Haven, Preservation of Affordable Housing, and Northland Investment Corporation about their thoughts on the renovation, renewal, or redevelopment of Church Street South. I also hope that this will spark the interest of the New Haven Preservation Trust and other groups that were vocal during the demolition of the New Haven Coliseum, the intentional neglect of the Phoenix Building at Chapel and Orange, and the 100-year old houses on Putnam Street that were eventually saved from demolition and rehabilitated thanks to efforts of local preservationists as they relate to Church Street South.

Jonathan Hopkins was born and raised in New Haven, where he also currently lives and works. He graduated from Roger Williams University in 2013, earning a Master’s Degree in architecture.

Previous coverage of Church Street South:
Church Street South Has A Suitor
Northland Faces Class-Action Lawsuit On Church Street South
First Attempt To Help Tenants Shuts Down
Few Details For Left-Behind Tenants
HUD: Help’s Here. Details To Follow
Mixed Signals For Church Street South Families
Church St. South Families Displaced A 2nd Time—For Yale Family Weekend
Church Street South Getting Cleared Out
200 Apartments Identified For Church Street South Families
Northland Asks Housing Authority For Help
Welcome Home
Shoddy Repairs Raise Alarm—& Northland Offer
Northland Gets Default Order—& A New Offer
HUD, Pike Step In
Northland Ordered To Fix Another 17 Roofs
Church Street South Evacuees Crammed In Hotel
Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild
Harp Blasts Northland, HUD
Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
No One Called 911 | “Hero” Didn’t Hesitate
“New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
Church Street South Tenants Organize

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posted by: Esbey on October 30, 2015  1:43pm

The thought that went into this piece is amazing, and there is so much great history.  I really enjoyed reading it. 

However, the idea of preserving any part of this monstrosity is just terrible.  Many of the “before” and “after” renderings above show a much improved “after”.  These are the renderings that show no existing buildings. 

In the “before” and “after” of an existing preserved/upgraded courtyard, however, the “after” is still awful.  In the “before,” the buildings have a certain “modernist” ugly concrete power.  In the “after,” there is a little lipstick on the concrete: now is it ugly and fake.  No one would want to live here. 

Tear it down and start over.  Not every failed experiment needs to be preserved.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on October 30, 2015  1:55pm

I was about halfway through this when I realized it had to be Jonathan Hopkins and not Paul Bass. Wayyyyy too much architectural detail.

Very informative, interesting article with a ton of great ideas.

To the Editor: Can we make it so the pictures can be enlarged? So many of the renderings can’t be seen at normal resolution and there’s no way to click the pictures for a higher-res option. I work in IT and would gladly provide any assistance needed for such a feature.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on October 30, 2015  3:25pm

I loved this, great read! I appreciate the before and after images that went along with the writing. The work and detail that went into this was impressive, thank you! 

That being said,... I think this whole complex needs to be razed and redeveloped. This is a HUGE opportunity for New Haven and this site is more important than ANYTHING that is in the works currently. This is a KEY landmark site for the city and will be the first thing newcomers see when entering this city via the train. 

Let’s do a high-end, super planned Transit oriented DENSE development there. Materials, constriction, GREEN components,... this all needs to be TOP NOTCH and we can definitely get people to build this.

RETAIL on the first floor throughout the development with either offices, a mix of offices and rentals, or mixed income rentals above!

We need to forget about the idea of townhomes and focus on mixed-use, mixed-income dense housing. This isn’t the suburbs, the yeoman back yard is not going to work here.

Parking? Can we get this underground? Let’s extend our downtown to the train station, not vinyl side our pathway to the future.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 30, 2015  3:52pm


I used to dislike the concrete block construction as well, but I’ve recently learned to appreciate the playful post-modern Georgian details. However, I understand that not everyone will be able to appreciate it, in which case brick or wood could be clad over the CMU units along with new pitched roofs - making the existing buildings unrecognizable. There - you’re problem is solved.

We need to exercise extreme caution when we propose large-scale demolition - think of the enormous amount of energy and materials that went into construction 301 units of housing in 1969.

Why are you prepared to put so much faith in a new designer when we don’t even know who they are or what their design might look like? Unless Cass Gilbert is raised from the dead and hired for the redevelopment design, its unlikely that anything newly built would be better than Charles Moore’s flawed design, especially is a new cladding and roofs were put on the existing buildings.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 30, 2015  4:02pm


Thank you, and I agree with much of what you’ve said, but I think those goals are achievable while incorporating much of the existing complex. Also, how can you mention “green components” in a new development while calling for the large-scale demolition of existing buildings in the same breath with a straight face? It would take decades to recoup the energy loss of demolishing the existing buildings.

I also think it is vital to city’s future that we include large, family-oriented units in Downtown New Haven. For anyone that thinks families and children shouldn’t be an important part of city life should spend some time on Crown Street around 2:00am on a weekend to see what a childless city center would look like. Once we demolish the large (3,4, and 5-bedroom) Church Street South Housing buildings, we will likely never regain units of that size in the Downtown. We’d be lucky if we got 800 sq ft 2-bedroom units.

posted by: quinn127 on October 30, 2015  5:54pm

Wait. Why wasn’t there a existing and a proposed image on how the connection will be for south orange and route 34? (Dr MLK jr Blvd) and it would’ve been nice if there was an image of how the proposed apartment tower will look like on the “extended and proposed” Tower lane.

posted by: Bradley on October 30, 2015  7:14pm

This is a thoughtful piece, but the author spends little time discussing how his plan would be financed (historic preservation tax credits may well be part of the mix, but certainly won’t cover the entire cost). Understandably, he is an architect, not a money guy. But coming up with a plausible financing plan is essential to the redevelopment of CSS.

The author also neglects the psychological impact of maintaining much of the complex. The image most New Haveners have of CSS is that of a jungle. Retaining the current buildings, even with pitched roofs, will make it hard for residents to dispel this image.

posted by: citoyen on October 31, 2015  12:11am


As usual, what you write is hugely knowledgeable and informative, based on deep appreciation for both the history of the Church Street South housing site and for the design aspects of the current housing development. I think it’s endearing that you have been so consistently an advocate for “surgically demolishing” and then rehabilitating the existing structures, when so many (including me) have been wanting to see them completely demolished, having outlived their useful lifespan, and replaced.

I confess that you start to get my attention here about some of the practical advantages that might accrue from trying to work with at least some of the existing buildings, and I take heart from your idea of re-imagining Tower Lane (which I have not seen before) as a link between the train station and the Church Street South roadway, and thus to downtown.

BUT—especially from studying your terrific aerial view site animations, it seems so obvious to me that from an urbanistic point of view, the link from the train station to downtown should be by means of a direct link roadway, on axis with the center of the station, over to the intersection of Church Street South (roadway) and Columbus Avenue.

THAT should be the starting point. The goal. The first object of negotiations with Northland. Anything/everything else can/could be figured out after that.

posted by: duo dickinson on October 31, 2015  6:22am

Fantastic article! What is needed, why the Independent is exceptional: THANKYOU: my modest bloviations: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/condemned_by_design/

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 31, 2015  12:20pm

Josh and anyone else interested,
Higher resolution versions for some of the images in the article can be found here:

Thanks for the feedback. I would suggest you look at Trade Union Plaza on Dwight Street for your answer. Trade Union Plaza was a low-income housing cooperative of 3-story walk-up apartment buildings above parking configured around green spaces and constructed of concrete masonry units in 1968. It was recently acquired by a private developer and renovated into market rate units.
Church Street South Housing is a project-based low-income housing complex consisting of 3-story walk-up apartment buildings above parking oriented around green spaces and construction of concrete masonry units in 1969.
I’m confident that Church Street South Housing could be privately renovated for market rate units like Trade Union Plaza. However, I think it is important to include subsidized units as well, which is why historic tax credits and HUD funding would be necessary for adding pitched roofs, roof decks, and possibly even rain screen cladding systems to the exterior of buildings.
Saying that people wouldn’t want to live in a radically transformed Church Street South because of its past is like saying that people won’t live in the Novella on Chapel and Howe because that area was a major drug dealing and prostitution thoroughfare.
Most of the new young professionals that would be moving into the renovated complex in a few years would have no idea what the history of the development was and therefore no bias towards living there - they would just see dedicated off-street parking under their unit, nice green spaces, large apartments, and convenient access to Union Station, Downtown, and the Medical District.

There’s many ways to redesign the street network that would be better than what’s existing, but I don’t think it’s the most important issue.
City’s plan: http://tinyurl.com/o8v8t5w
Alternate: http://tinyurl.com/qakv8y9

posted by: 1644 on October 31, 2015  2:31pm

Jonathan: “Trade Union Plaza” has not been a co-operative since the early 1980’s, when HUD foreclosed the co-op’s ownership.  In 1985, the project was sold to local investors, subject to 15 year section 8 requirement.  They re-named it “Union Plaza”. Those private investors cleaned up the complex with sweat and other equity.  Tenants were controlled by on on-site partner who lived nearby.  After the 15 years expired, in 2001, , they sold the project, and it was later converted to market rate.

posted by: Stylo on October 31, 2015  3:15pm

Great article, but I don’t understand why this is even a debate. Tear it down and build to the potential the land has.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 31, 2015  3:40pm

Thank you for the more in depth history of Trade Union Plaza! I should be saying it was recently renovated as market rate apartments not recently acquired by private investors, since as you make clear it has in fact been owned privately for quite some time even though it did start out as a low-income cooperative. A friend of mine lived in the complex in the early-to-mid 2000s when it was transitioning and I actually looked into renting an apartment there a couple years ago when they were in the middle of renovations and anther friend of mine has lived there for a few years now. Again, thanks for the more detailed history of that complex, much appreciated.

posted by: citoyen on October 31, 2015  11:34pm


Actually, when re-imagining a site of this size and importance to the city, I do think that first establishing the best infrastructure basis *is* the most important thing. Subsequent development then gets built accordingly. I wasn’t really talking about the “street network” of the area, but specifically about how a link gets made between the train station and downtown.

Both street pattern plans you refer to envision a Union Square adjacent to the intersection of Church St. South (road) and Columbus Ave., with an indirect way around the square to get to the station. It is just this that I would like to see re-thought into a design that makes the actual link to the station more than what seems like a kind of grudging accommodation.

New Haven took its very identity from the initial layout of its streets—making the nine squares. Future development of the city is going to be to the south—we see this already, with hospital expansion, Downtown Crossing, the Coliseum development—and the natural spine for this trend is the already existing Church St. South roadway. Indeed, the Hill-to-Downtown urban plan proposed by the city recognizes this, and also recognizes that it is a natural route toward the train station. But it envisions not really a direct route to the station, but a circuitous one around Union Square.

If this kind of station approach is realized, most traffic to the station will likely continue along Union Ave., and along the envisioned extension of Orange St. The spine of New Haven’s southward development would be deprived of significant activity. On the other hand, if Church St. South (road) came to be seen as the natural, the obvious way to get to the station (ideally with the cooperation with CT Transit), then this perception would stimulate growth along its path, because of all the activity.

Thinking about the Church St. South (housing) site really *should* begin from a broad urban planning perspective, and then drill down into the particulars.

posted by: Bradley on November 1, 2015  12:16am

Jonathan, I hope that Church Street South can be redeveloped and that Trade Union Plaza can serve as model. But I am less sanguine than you about its future if most if all of the project is not rebuilt. The Novella not only looks, but in actuality is, radically different that what was previously on the site. While I like your design for the CSS buildings that would be retained, the buildings are fundamentally the same as what is on the site now. Adding pitched roofs and the other improvements you suggest makes sense. But under your plan, most of the existing buildings would be retained, and it would be hard to persuade non-poor tenants that this is an attractive alternative to the developments that are entering the market. Mixed income developments can work, but given this site’s history, I think that large-scale reconstruction is called for.

In any case, I want to thank you for your contributions to this and other conversations.

posted by: robn on November 1, 2015  8:28am

Embodied energy is a non issue because the long term energy savings of a better designed complex dwarf the embodied energy) not to mention the number of cars taken off he road because it would effectively be a TOD).

The real issue about whether to save or tear down should be cultural heritage and this project was an abject failure on all levels including culture.

posted by: 1644 on November 1, 2015  9:36am

Jonathan Hopkins: A few other comments on Union Plaza:

(a) The co-op and HUD had allowed the open garages to be toilets for patrons from nearby bars, shooting galleries, etc. They were dangerous places.  The private owners cleansed them of condoms, needles, urine and other garbage, and painted them.  Overhead doors were installed to keep people out, and chain link was installed between bays.  Tenants who wanted garages were then required to pay $50/month extra.
(b)  A low bern about the project was replaced with a chest high concrete wall, and thorny plants were installed to further dissuade outsiders from coming through the complex.
( c ) a playground was installed for kids, and other areas landscaped with shrubs and flowers.
(d) Most of all, the onsite manager-partner was aggressive in taking legal action to rid the place of troublesome tenants, as well as being responsive to tenant maintenance issues.  He often gave small monetary gifts, out of his own pocket,  to kids that did well in school.  Tenants had one, consistent, face to face point of contact for issues, and would rat out bad behavior by others.  The partners were also invested in other property in the neighborhood on George Street, and four of five, including the manager, lived within a block.  Inside the units were nice, with parquet floors, etc.

At this point, CSS has 30 more years of abuse and neglect than did Union Plaza when private owners saved it.  Moreover, while the design could be made to work with better management and better tenants,  the land is, today, far too valuable to be devoted to low density , low-income housing.  The current structures are literally crumbling.  Raze them , create a clear pathway to Union Station, increased the drop off area on Union Ave, and build mid-rise, mixed use, market rate structures on the remaining land.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 1, 2015  12:49pm

Correct higher resolution images link:

I partially agree with you, but Downtown Crossing was an enormous opportunity too (see here: http://tinyurl.com/q2h35vl). We don’t have a good track record of doing what is ideal. Also, Cass Gilbert thought the entry sequence to his station should be at an angle, not straight on. South Orange Street is the historic entry to the train station (see the aerial photo from 1934 in second photo of the article). Reconnecting Orange Street over Route 34, reopening Columbus Ave, and creating an extension of Tower Lane (maybe even remain it Station Lane) is adequate in my opinion. Perhaps not ideal, but adequate.

If the Church Street South Units were renovated with updated kitchen appliances they would be better than any new apartment units being built now. I mean that in all seriousness. “The Jungle’s” buildings get sunlight from two sides, are very large units, have large closets, separate dining and living areas, private balconies, rear or front yards, views to communal green spaces, parking under the unit hidden from the street and pedestrian view, and some have multiple levels. That is remarkable.

Embodied energy is one of my concerns. Another is the relocation of existing tenants. I’d like to see the tenants most in need because of their apartment condition relocated to allow renovation work to begin on those units. Once complete, the remaining residents can move in to the new units and allow renovation work and new construction to continue on the rest of the site. Third, new construction has been worse than Church Street South’s.

Also, the problem of low-income housing has largely been an issue of management - not design (including even Pruitt-Igoe). A flawed design can exacerbate issues, but the main problem with low-income housing has always been mismanagement and homogeneity. Church Street South’s design is brilliant in some ways, but flawed in others.

posted by: citoyen on November 1, 2015  12:58pm

Amen to 1644.  Create a re-thought Union Square at the intersection of Church Street South (roadway), Columbus Avenue, and a new Station Avenue.  Create an intersection of Station Avenue and Union Avenue, in front of the train station, with (some) green space and better circulation for pick-up-and-drop-off, for buses, for Station Avenue traffic to and from downtown, and for through traffic on Union Avenue.

New Haven is full of professional design talent.  This can be done.

Then approach Northland Investment Corp. and say, “This is what we want to accomplish. How can we work this out with you?”

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 1, 2015  1:15pm

Great points! Church Street South Housing might definitely require HUD and federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credit funding then.

“Moreover, while the design could be made to work with better management and better tenants,  the land is, today, far too valuable to be devoted to low density , low-income housing.”

That is why I call for building 300-600 new apartments, 150,000 sq ft of office and retail space in addition to rehabilitating most of the existing 300 units, around half of which should be converted to market rate. There is also additional opportunities later on for other development on the Church parking lot, the City-owned parking lot on Tower Lane, the Knights of Columbus warehouse building, the police headquarters site, and the two surface parking lots on Union Avenue. Also, Church Street South is not low-density. It is 3- and 4-story buildings - that is the urban ideal that maintains the ability to walk-up to apartments without elevators.

I’m curious, what was your opinion on these 100 year old houses on Putnam Street?
Should they have been torn down or was it good that they were saved and rehabilitated?

posted by: 1644 on November 1, 2015  2:05pm

Jonathan: I think it’s great that those house were preserved, although often modern renovation leaves little of the original intact.  Building codes and the ADA are enemies of historic preservation.  Banning lead paint also hasn’t helped wood frame buildings.

I really like the “Georgian” buildings you propose for facing the train station.  The revamped Moore buildings, and possible clapboard clad buildings look ridiculous beside them, however.  I think much of the market for 360 State could fill housing at the CSS site, along with some retail and offices taking advantage of the resurgence in rail commuting.  Dick Lee was right, this site should not be low-income housing.  Buildings of the scale of your Geo. ones are more appropriate than the Moore buildings. 

The Moore plans are not very site specific.  Perhaps they could be reused on another site of less value.

posted by: citoyen on November 1, 2015  3:45pm


I wonder if it’s correct, exactly, to say that Cass Gilbert thought that the approach to the train station “should” be at an angle, or whether he and Olmsted arrived at their proposal as a feasible, if not ideal one. They were proponents of City Beautiful principles, which included site plans of streets connecting prominent buildings on axis, as derived from the plan of Paris.

In their time, the Church Street South roadway did not exist, so whatever they proposed required wholesale demolition of some area of town—in their case, the entire distance from the plaza they envisioned at an extension of Temple Street over to the station.  In our time, the Church Street South roadway does exist, and the Church Street South housing site is likely to be cleared, providing an opportunity that Gilbert and Olmsted never had.

Also, Gilbert and Olmsted did envision both the major plaza at the intersection of a Temple Street extension and their new avenue to the station, and a plaza in front of the station.  We have the opportunity to create both kinds of areas today, as I mention in a post above. Doing so would be respectful not only of Gilbert and Olmsted’s historical plans for the city, but also of New Haven’s history of mid-century development, which created what is now the Church Street South roadway.

Also, although the historical route to the train station has indeed been along the previously uninterrupted Orange Street, that route, while adequate, did not go to the heart of downtown. Church Street does go there. Why settle for adequate when such a golden opportunity exists to achieve something that would be more desirable?

This opportunity is not likely to come again.  We should be thinking in terms of finding a way to seize it.

posted by: 1644 on November 1, 2015  5:26pm

And I shall say “amen” to Citoyen.  We have a once on a century opportunity to properly connect the train station to downtown.  Those are really the two fixed objects.  Everything else may be cleared, buildings, streets, may be cleared or moved.  Perhaps even the Wolfe building should be razed.  Once we have a good, strong axis, making for a good flow between the station, the medical campus, and the green/Old Campus, development will follow as surely as it did on Park Avenue when the railroad was buried.  Let’s get the traffic flow, pedestrian, auto and bicycle right, then fill in with moderate rise mixed use buildings.  Retail/office/residential.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 1, 2015  5:51pm

This work was produced free in my leisure time after work. That’s to say, the visuals were produced with extremely limited resources. They are placeholders - conceptual images that are meant to convey an idea, not a literal built proposal. The new buildings don’t have to be brick or wood - they can be anything. Or, the existing buildings don’t have to be left concrete block - rain screen cladding systems can be added to them to conceal the CMU blocks with nicer materials.

“Dick Lee was right, this site should not be low-income housing.”

I agree. The site should primarily be market rate luxury housing, but I believe it should include subsidized and affordable units in moderate proportion as well.

The 1910 Plan assumed New Haven’s population to swell to 1.5 million by 2000 and be similar to Boston. Their station plaza was designed with that false assumption in mind. In other words, Gilbert’s 1910 conceptual plaza scheme was probably too big. Frederick L. Ford was the engineer eventually tasked with translating Gilbert’s ideal station boulevard into a practical city street in 1912. The South Orange Street portion was eventually built, but the connection to Temple Street wasn’t. Erik Vogt has called Ford’s translation of Gilbert’s design (seen in the 1934 aerial), “far from compromising their plan’s intent and principle, was a richer, more complex scheme” than Gilbert’s.

My scheme includes a small plaza in front of the station. I happen to think that small plazas are nicer and more intense. Considering that the nearby Coliseum site will have a large plaza, I think that creating too large of a plaza near the train station result in a ghost town like the Federal Plaza behind City Hall.

I agree with your general point that we should strive for the ideal. However, I think you have to accept that New Haven doesn’t have a good record of doing this. We are move likely to get buildings with glued on brick than anything that is better than Moore’s design.

posted by: citoyen on November 1, 2015  7:14pm


The sizes of the two plazas I’m suggesting are not really the issue; one can be like the Union Square envisioned in the Hill-to-Downtown plan, except re-conceived to include a
Station Avenue, and at the other end of Station Avenue there could be one at the scale you propose in front of the train station, provided it does incorporate a better arrangement for pick-up-and-drop-off. And again, regardless of how well Frederick Ford translated an aspect of the Gilbert and Olmsted plan into a partial substitute reality, he too did not have the opportunity we have now of the Church Street South roadway, placed exactly where future growth of New Haven can be anticipated.

And as I suggested in my first post here, saying you’d gotten my attention about the advantages of possibly trying to work with the existing Charles Moore buildings, I don’t see why some of them couldn’t be kept and incorporated into a redesigned site—based on the primary concept of creating a clear, direct link between the train station and downtown.

You are convincing me more and more of the virtue of the Moore buildings, and of the likelihood that replacement structures would have less design quality. For the future of the Church Street South housing site, that comes under the heading of working out the details. The first job is to get the basic civic structure right. 

(And by the way, I keep thinking that your striking knowledge, engagement, commitment, and writing ability come under the category of enduring New Haven treasure.)

posted by: Bradley on November 2, 2015  7:26am

This has been a great discussion, and I’ve learned a lot. But let me introduce two concerns regarding money and the NH housing market.

Like most folks, I think that CSS will be a great site for a mixed income, mixed use development. But the development cannot come at the expense of the current tenants (no one on this thread has suggested it should). Even if the development includes a comparable number of affordable units, someone will need to come up with housing for the tenants for several years and relocation costs. While Northland is covering these costs in the short term, I don’t think anyone has identified who will pay these costs over the long haul. In addition, Jonathan’s design would include very substantial public infrastructure costs. Based on the recent experience with the LiveWorkPlay project, I doubt that any developer would be willing to pay the full costs of relocating streets and utilities contemplated here.  Having recently received a ton of money for infrastructure for LWP from the state, I doubt there will be much enthusiasm for giving New Haven a new, large pot of money for this purpose.

There is clearly a substantial market for market rate housing in and near downtown. But under the best of circumstances, it will take several years to develop the project proposed here. By that time, all of the housing currently under construction will be on the market, and it is likely that the first phase of LiveWorkPlay will be nearing completion if not on the market.  The latter is also likely to be the case for Metro 301 on Crown Street. I think the market will absorb the 1,000+ units of market rate housing that has recently come on line or is under construction; I hope that it will absorb most of the 1,000+ units that are in the pipeline. I don’t know whether there is enough demand to absorb the 500 to 600 units of additional market rate housing proposed here.

posted by: Scot on November 2, 2015  9:45am

Great article. It has persuaded me that at least some of the current units should be saved, while new structures should be added. What has me sold is that saving these units could (ironically) provide luxuries that would likely not be included if it were completely razed/rebuilt:  private under-unit parking garages, front/back yards/gardens (which could also be divided into small private patios/gardens), large closets, and balconies. New developments going up generally don’t have these features. If re-roofed, re-sided, gutted and remodeled, they could be amazing. (a 5-BR could be converted to a spacious 3-BR). Agree with JH there’s nothing wrong with the footprint of the structures. There is plenty of land here so new (larger, more dense mixed use) structures could also be added as JH points out. Perhaps the saved units could be converted and sold as individually owned luxury condos, while larger new construction could be developer-owned rentals (including some affordable/subsidized units).  If the area gets razed and rebuilt it will most likely look like the Novella/College St -those places are wonderful additions but they are mostly small units with few balconies or private gardens, etc, targeted to individuals and not families and no opportunity for private ownership. 

Whatever happens I think it’s important to keep a direct (not winding) route(s) -pedestrian friendly promenades - to medical district and downtown and perhaps space should be reserved for some type of future shuttle/trolley/etc to pass through.

posted by: citoyen on November 2, 2015  12:13pm


Great points (as usual). There will also be all the housing units proposed near Wooster Square. In the context of New Haven’s current building boom, the one thing the Church Street South site does have going for it is its proximity to the train station. Units there likely would be marketed to people wanting to get *somewhere else* than New Haven (downtown or otherwise) for part of their days. And who, for the remainder of their time (evenings, weekends) would value living within easy access to the activities of an urban downtown also. Or perhaps marketed to people working at the ever-expanding medical complex. As you say, it remains to be seen whether there will be enough demand for yet more housing as time goes on.

Your remarks about how to pay for infrastructure changes at the CSS site, and about all the money the state is already supplying for the LWP development, are sobering, and perhaps an initial, if naive response, is to say that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I claim no knowledge about a subject like this. I do know the mayor added a staff position in her office early on to focus exclusively on obtaining grants for the city. Also, a developer likely would need various sorts of zoning concessions and would have to satisfy building permit requirements to build on the site, and the city presumably would have negotiating room to get a street and utilities established.

Get the infrastructure right at this site, and it could encourage future growth in New Haven along the entire spine of the Church Street South roadway. This would be *true* Transit Oriented Development.  Not some sort of one-time structure, like the one that has been proposed next to the existing parking garage at the train station, but an entire district encouraged by easy and obvious proximity to a major transportation point.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 2, 2015  10:10pm

I’ve gone back and re-read your comments and I think I was initially getting all the comments mixed up together and conflating some of your ideas with other peoples’. Thank you for the feedback and the lively discussion. I’ve tried to incorporate some of your ideas into another scheme here:

Existing site plan:
Alternate demolition plan:
Alternate proposed site plan:

Great comments! I believe the relocated tenants are being given portable Section 8 vouchers. My scheme includes as much new street infrastructure as Northland’s 2012 proposal, which is less than what the city calls for in the Union Square redevelopment plan from the Hill-to-Downtown Community Plan. Church Street South’s existing housing would fill a slightly different market than the podium buildings that are currently going up with studios and 1-bedroom units, but it will nevertheless be important to watch New Haven’s housing market carefully in the next few years while all this new construction is going on.

Terrific comment! I definitely agree that many of the existing 3, 4, and 5-bedroom Church Street South units could be converted to larger 2-and 3-bedroom apartments with a second bathroom, larger kitchen, more storage, and bigger bedrooms.

posted by: citoyen on November 3, 2015  12:40pm


YES!! You got it! Thank you for making the effort to create your new diagram. A picture is worth a thousand words. This is the basis I hope the city will start with as it decides how to proceed with dealing with Northland Corp. and its Church Street South property.  Exactly.

New Haven would finally get a direct link between its main train station and its downtown, and the Gilbert building would finally get to have an urbanistic context that would start to make some sense.

What a terrific discussion and exchange all this has been—and productive.

posted by: 1644 on November 3, 2015  12:57pm

There are a lot of great ideas here.  Some differences of opinion on the best approach, but all are better than the existing plan, and better than Northlands.  BTW, while Gilbert and Moore may be gone, I think Hopkins could do just fine with the site.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 3, 2015  4:37pm

Do not worry. This is what will happen to Church Street South.

WTF: A Star-Studded Party to Help Build $58 Million Waterfront Condos in the South Bronx?

Lots of people think gentrification is an inevitability for many businesses and neighborhoods. If it’s cheap and conveniently on the right subway line to a place where more affluent people work, it will most likely turn into a g-spot.After Williamsburg and Long Island City, and now the Upper East Side becoming a new hot spot for young creative professionals, the rabid developers and investors of New York City have set their sights on the South Bronx.