New Haven was once a national leader among cities in the United States for its efforts in pioneering urban renewal. It is important for our students to study this period to develop a sense of pride in their city, and strive to contribute to making New Haven a better place in which to live. New Haven, as any other urban center, has its problems. Cities are where large numbers of people live and work together—people with differences. Much time and effort has been wasted by utilizing these differences as causes for confrontation, rather than as a means of creating harmony. If people would only see that these differences can complement one another, and not conflict, then we will have taken our first step toward ameliorating life in the city. A city can grow economically, but if its human and social growth does not increase proportionately, society lags and needs are not met. Herein lies the root of the problems of our cities. We, as teachers, must instill in our students the importance of human values, for it is the people, not buildings, that make a city what it is. We must stress the importance of setting goals for a brighter future.
Cities are places that provide people with numerous services, not only to its residents, but to the residents of neighboring cities and towns as well. New Haven’s businesses, colleges, churches and health care facilities provide necessary services to residents of every city and town in the region. Yet, New Haven is made to stand alone to face up to its problems. The problems of our city do not miraculously disappear, however, at the city limits. New Haven’s problems should be addressed on a metropolitan basis. It is important for our students to understand that New Haven’s vitality is crucial to the health of the entire region.
During the period of urban renewal in New Haven, people had their sights set on the future. With the process of rebuilding there was hope for a brighter future. Recently President Carter expressed the view that many Americans believe that the future is expected to be worse than the present. We cannot pass this sense of despair on to our students, for they are the future. I hope that this unit will enable them to understand the importance of their striving to become good, productive people with their sights set on shaping the future for the betterment of all.
One doesn’t have to look only at the recent history of New Haven to find New Haveners who had the desire to make the City a more attractive place in which to live and work. In the period from 1754 to 1784 James Hillhouse, Captain of the Governor’s Guard, Congressman, Senator, and state legislator, planted the City’s elm trees. At the turn of the nineteenth century many improvements were accomplished by the City Beautiful Movement. While these projects cannot compare in scope to the changes that took place in New Haven in the years from the fifties to the present, they are important to note, for they illustrate the persisting efforts of New Haveners to improve their city.
The urban renewal program in New Haven was undertaken on a massive scale. No other city in the United States could equal the ambitious commitment to such a large scale redevelopment of its business and residential districts. On a per capita basis, New Haven outranked all American cities in securing funds which produced an impressive experiment in the physical and human rejuvenation of a city.
In 1953, when Richard C. Lee was elected Mayor of the City of New Haven, the city was in a devastatingly gloomy condition. Plans were being formulated by former administrations for the beginning of a renewal program, but the future of New Haven appeared to be as gloomy as its appearance. The downtown district was in poor economic and physical condition and large pockets of slums existed throughout the city. Dick Lee had based his campaign on the promise of a brighter future for New Haven. It took the voters three elections to decide that he was ready for the job. It was Lee who was the catalyst of the chemistry of city planning that was about to occur.
Mayor Lee’s relationship with A. Whitney Griswold, President of Yale University, enhanced the City’s efforts in renewal. The City and Yale University worked jointly on several projects. In some situations Yale was the actual developer, and in many instances, the University provided the Lee staff with expertise in such fields as law, city planning, and architecture. A second factor which figured largely in New Haven’s renewal story was the staff that Lee commanded. These were exciting times for those who wished to pursue a career of public service. The atmosphere in New Haven offered greater opportunity than Washington for those who were bright, dedicated, and ambitious. Under the direction of Lee and Edward Logue, his Development Administrator, these “whiz kids” kept the ideas and grant applications flowing through the bureaucratic structure. A third factor was the intent of the federal government in providing funds for urban renewal. In fact, Washington was so receptive to fresh ideas that it was not unusual for representatives from New Haven to aid in the drafting of enabling legislation for programs to which they were prepared to apply. Fourth, Lee enjoyed an excellent relationship with the Democratic Party structure from the local level to the state and national levels. Later, when Abraham Ribicoff was elected Governor of Connecticut and Kennedy was elected President, Lee’s influence increased ten-fold. Finally, Lee refined an idea which pulled together business leaders, community leaders, and representatives of New Haven’s labor force. Notably missing from this committee, however, were representatives of neighborhood people. This becomes a factor of importance as the story unfolds. With Dick Lee at the helm, city planning came of age in New Haven. His drive, foresightedness, and dedication pulled all of these factors together to improve the image of New Haven.
In the years to follow, New Haven was given a facelift.
—Oak Street was the worst slum area in the city. The area which bordered the downtown district had the distinction of harboring the most decrepit housing in New Haven. The Oak Street Project became the City’s first effort in rebuilding. However, there was the problem of relocating the more than 600 families and businesses that were in this neighborhood. After nearly two years had passed (1955-57), the entire area was leveled and made ready for the Oak Street Connector. The connector was originally planned to be no more than a spur from the Interstate to the downtown district. Lee and his staff drew up plans which called for three exit ramps at various points which would facilitate smoother traffic flow into the city. The highway department was impressed with this alternative plan and accepted it.
—The Oak Street Connector was finally completed in 1959. Its placement was a key factor in the renewal of the downtown district for it provided easy access to the area. This was important if New Haven was to have any chance at attracting new businesses and investors. Two other factors figured largely in getting the renewal of downtown underway) a large parking garage on Temple Street; and the intention of the First New Haven National Bank to construct a new headquarters on Church Street. Dick Lee and Ed Logue were able to entice Roger L. Stevens, a real estate entrepreneur, into New Haven’s downtown renewal program which became known as the Church Street Project. This enormous section of the business district, which stretched from the Green to the Connector, would ultimately involve the outlay of more than $25,000,000 for the construction of a hotel, office tower, department stores, and a shopping mall. The Church Street Project was not devoid of problems. More than two years of litigation were to follow, in which businessmen who would be dislocated challenged the efforts of the Redevelopment Agency. Three years had passed between Lee’s announcement of the Church Street Project’s approval by the Board of Aldermen and the beginning of construction. Even after construction was underway, the Church Street Project encountered difficulties. The construction of the new Malley’s was temporarily halted until financial arrangements could be settled. Yale University came to the rescue by providing the necessary backing of the Malley’s building. In 1962, Macy’s announced its intention of joining the Church Street Project.
The construction of a five million dollar store by a concern as large as Macy’s practically assured the success of the Church Street Project. Roger L. Stevens had invested a great deal of effort and capital in the rebuilding of New Haven’s business district, but was finally ready to pull out of New Haven. Stevens explained, “We figured that we sank seventeen million dollars into New Haven. That’s more than I spent on the Empire State Building deal. I just got tired of throwing money away”
In 1964, Stevens withdrew as the major developer, but not before securing Gilbane Builders and the Fusco-Amatruda Construction Company as the new developers. These firms would continue with the construction of the hotel, office tower, and shopping mall.
—Wooster Square became the first residential neighborhood to be renewed. This area had gone through many changes as the city, the country, and the world had changed. It was first settled by well-to-do Yankees and was a very fashionable district. When the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, many immigrants were attracted to this neighborhood, most of whom were Italians. At the turn of the century the Italian population accounted for five percent of the total neighborhood population. By the end of the 1960s, the Italians numbered about eighty percent of the total population of 7,000. Many rundown tenements, businesses, and factories existed in a “salad bowl” type of configuration. Wooster Square was a challenge to the city planners.
This neighborhood was handled with “kid gloves” by the Redevelopment Agency because of its historic nature. Many of these homes would be rehabilitated rather than razed. The Agency took great pains to instill pride in the owners of these homes. Whenever it was necessary, the Agency used its power of eminent domain to condemn a building that was not up to code. This was done only in cases where the owner refused to cooperate with the plans that were drawn up by the Redevelopment Agency. With properties that had the potential to be rehabilitated, an architect would consult with the owner, draw a rendering of what the property could become, provide technical assistance to the owner; and, to add a personal touch, when the property was rehabilitated, the owner was presented with a certificate by Mayor Lee which documented the owner’s participation in it the renewal of the community. When Wooster Square was completed, it boasted a new community school, library, senior citizens’ center, cooperative housing, rehabilitated businesses, and an industrial park. Wooster Square became a prime example of what a city could do by making the wise use of the “scalpel instead of the bulldozer.”
—Started in 1961, the University Park - Dixwell Project was vastly different from the Wooster Square Project. There was no need to make greater use of the scalpel rather than the bulldozer, for there were no historic homes to be saved. More than 700 slum dwellings existed here. These slums were razed to make way for new businesses, churches, and cooperative housing. The greater emphasis was placed on new housing in Dixwell. Unlike Wooster Square which was predominantly white and wanted to stay that way, Dixwell was predominantly black and wanted to attract more whites into the neighborhood. A housing project called Florence Virtue was the first cooperative housing project in Dixwell. It consisted of 129 new units and was sponsored by the Dixwell Congregational Church. Early figures showed that the efforts to attract whites to the project were not in vain. When the project was completed, the occupancy figures reflected a ratio of sixty percent black and forty percent white. Since then additional units of housing and business have been constructed in the Dixwell community.
Originally this area was more than 100 acres of tidal marsh land. As the harbor was being dredged, this material was being used to fill in this marsh land. By the end of the sixties, Long Wharf became a business sector which included a regional food market terminal, Sargent & Company, Armstrong Rubber, Blakeslee Construction Company, Gant Shirt Factory, and a Howard Johnsons Motel. Later, Long Wharf became the home of South Central Community College, Albie Booth Boys’ Club, a community clinic, a branch of the First Bank, and the New Haven Water Company.
The New Haven Redevelopment has a wealth of free material concerning projects of more recent years, and updated material on past projects. Renewal projects that are in progress, or are planned, in areas such as the Hill, Newhallville, Dwight, State Street, and Fair Haven are at various stages. Materials such as maps, housing figures, racial composition of neighborhoods, progress reports, etc. will provide the teacher with a myriad of applications in the classroom. In addition, separate units on several of the neighborhoods of New Haven have been developed by other Fellows of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Both sources of information will prove to be invaluable to the teacher in presenting an in-depth unit on New Haven’s redevelopment.