After World War II inner city neighborhoods that had been working class vibrant communities with diverse populations and job opportunities began to decline and the neighborhoods of New Haven was no exception. The exodus to the suburbs began as early as the mid 1800s as middle class and upper class families moved out, looking for better living conditions while still having access to the jobs and amenities of downtown cities. This trend continued through to the mid 20th century. However when industry, retail, and other business began to be enticed into the suburbs, and plans for urban renewal began to fail, the economic and social welfare of the cities plummeted. The inner city neighborhoods that, despite conflict and culture clashes, were once working neighborhoods became destitute. Drugs and the drug industry became apparent, goods and services became scarce, and the statistics of poverty and crime rose to levels before unseen.
This unfortunate occurrence happened in countless numbers of cities in the United States and New Haven was not exempt. New Haven is a small, and, as David Rusk termed in Cities without Suburbs, an
inelastic city". (4) This means the city has used all of its possible land to capacity in some way and is filled to capacity. According to Rusk, inelastic cities are most difficult to revitalize because there is no room for growth. New Haven did not annex suburbs, and thus lost a tax base as development moved to the suburbs.
Around 1954 the flight for the suburbs began to have a negative impact on New Haven's economy. It did not go unnoticed. Mayor Richard Lee attempted one of the earliest urban renewal projects at the time but it was unsuccessful. (5) The construction of Interstates 91 and 95 threw some of the cities neighborhoods into even further decline There were a few more unsuccessful attempts at renewal but it wasn't until the mid to late 1990s that New Haven began to have a resurgence, and these attempts to help and sustain decimated neighborhoods began to be effective. As with many of the urban neighborhoods that had this devastating experience of suburban flight, grassroots efforts within the neighborhoods have been some of the most successful. In some inner city neighborhoods, such as the South Bronx, these community based grassroots efforts were imperative to turning a neighborhood for the better. In New Haven these types of efforts have, at the least, been helpful to the community. There has been resurgence in businesses in downtown, and some very successful social service groups in the area.