Memory and Place on the New Haven Green
being written concurrently while participating in the seminar Architecture in the Imagination: Place, Memory, Poetry. Dolores Hayden, the seminar leader has introduced a number of concepts that have broadened my understanding of architecture in general. Undoubtedly, I am gaining a keener appreciation for the design of urban space. The first concept deals with properly defining urban architecture. The urban landscape is an historical record rather than a collection of buildings. This definition encourages appreciation of the community as a whole. Second, consideration of the urban landscape should include spaces as well as buildings. While this concept may be troublesome to preservationists, it is paramount to understanding the diversity of an entire urban community. When most people think of preserving the culture or heritage of a city, they often focus on saving buildings such as town halls or the homes of famous people. Are there spaces worth remembering of perhaps equal significance, which are less easily defined? Professor Hayden's work on cultural mapping in Los Angeles suggests yes. Her project, the
Power of Place
created visual remembrances of historically important women, such as Biddy Mason, members of cultural/ethnic communities, and local social movements. The project incorporated these visual commemorations into the urban landscape of Los Angeles.4 So while Los Angeles continues to develop, remembrances of diverse people who are significant to particular areas of the city offer continuity between the past and present. This type of interpretation of urban space may heighten debate over what is culturally significant in the urban environment. However, this more inclusive and comprehensive look at the urban landscape is why the New Haven Green is such an excellent subject for student/citizens of New Haven. Most, if not all, students have a connection with the Green because it is central to transportation, social events, and shopping downtown. In addition, while the landscape around the Green has changed over the centuries, the Green has remained as the symbol of continuity from the founding of New Haven to the present.
The target audience of this unit is students of United States History I college and honors classes at Wilbur Cross High School. Cross is a diverse urban high school with approximately 1400 students. The school serves children from different socio-economic backgrounds. Children who live in public housing, children of New Haven legacies, immigrant children, and children of Yale faculty all comprise the school's student body. The three largest ethnic groups are Africa American, Hispanic, and Caucasian. However, there are also a significant number of Asian students that attend Wilbur Cross. Diversity pervades even these categorizations. The Hispanic population at Cross not only includes students who are from Puerto Rico and/or are of Puerto Rican ancestry but also is comprised of students who are immigrants from Mexico and Colombia. Asian students include American-born citizens and immigrants from China, Vietnam, and Korea. Students are grouped by ability level in honors or college level classes. Some remedial classes are offered to those in need. AP classes and elective courses are also offered. Students are required to accrue 24 credits in order to graduate.
History requirements includes taking a full year of World History (grade 9), a full year of United States History I Prehistory -1877 (grade 10), one half year course in United States History II 1877-present, and one half year course in Civics. The Green and themes from this unit lend themselves to adaptation to any of these core subjects because since 1638, the Green has been a major arena for New Haven's economy, mass transportation routes, civic/social affairs, and political activity.
Students and the Green
Many students spend time in downtown New Haven. They wait at bus stops along the Green, run in the grass, walk along the paved pathways, ride bicycles, and "hang out." They see the churches on the Green, the water fountain, the flagpole, remnants of the burial ground, and the surrounding buildings. They observe people who appear to be homeless or transient. Many enjoy concerts and festivals at the Green in the summer. Having students research people and events that are associated with the Green will hopefully challenge their visualization and understanding of the meaning of urban space.
By examining the history of the Green and its immediate surroundings students will see that space can be modern, functional and, serve as a link between the past and the future. This is of particular value for students to see in studying history today. The diversity of the urban high school student body demands that diversity be incorporated in the curriculum. The concept of cultural mapping fits directly into this interpretation. The more comprehensive the remembrances of an area are the more rich and textured the community can be.