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Garris

My Visit to New Haven: What Prov Can Learn...

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Hi everyone,

I visited a friend yesterday in New Haven, who took me for a tour of the city, and all I have to say is "wow." I knew the city had improved dramatically since I was there in the mid-90's, but this was my first blow-by-blow walk through downtown. Amazing. I'd say they're a good 5 years or so ahead of Providence in their downtown reclaimation. If Westminster, Weybosset, and Washington could look like their downtown by 2009, I'd be thrilled.

Unlike what I had previously thought, my friend pointed out that the transformation isn't just in a thin ribbon around Yale, but encompasses the entire downtown. It feels like there isn't a corner of the downtown that hasn't been gutted, gentrified, or is in the process of being so. Restaurants everywhere, clubs, bars, apartments, condos, movie theaters, boutiques, markets (mainstream and Asian)...

All I have to say is this:

The entire Cornish staff and Prov city planning agency should visit New Haven tomorrow and see what they've done...

Now, part of my being impressed is that I don't live there everyday, so I may be missing the blemishes. The other part of my being impressed, though, is that I do know the city, having lived there for 4 years. Neighborhoods that were unwalkable (for fear of crime or just unwalkable, due to miserable sidewalks, debris, homeless, or just because literally nothing there as a destination except for crumbling buildings) are, as of 10:45 PM yesterday, teaming with people going out to a huge variety of sparkling places. If I told someone 8 years ago that I had dinner in the 9th Square area, they would have looked at me with a morbid fascination and fear of insanity as if I had just told them I climbed K19.

Here are some things that Providence could, shockingly, learn from New Haven's rise:

- No graffiti. Is there is any, I didn't see it. Even the condemned buildings didn't have a touch. The city, actually, in general is very clean.

- Much, much better signage than Providence, both for streets and attractions. It's also high up in the air, preventing vandalism...

- Same for the beautiful new street lights. They're more effective than ours downtown, and they're high in the air, preventing vandalism.

- Signage of businesses is slick, modern, and obvious without being in-your-face. We've all said before that many businesses in our downtown are nearly invisible unless you know they're there.

- There's sign of a guiding hand... For example, restaurants almost seem grouped together by theme (in one area, they're just about to open an Asian market next to a slick Sushi restaurant (that Providence has nothing like), and across the street is an authentic Chinese Restaurant... One area has 3 pan-Asian/Thai restaurants... Another is mostly bistros, yet another is mostly boutiques...

- Beautiful sidewalks. Some areas that were unwalkable before now have excellent and durable looking brick sidewalks with all matters of designs, stars on the walk, etc...

- Fascinating use of space. In one previously always problematic and dangerous area behind the Shubert theater in the midst of several parking garages, they've built a green courtyard that is home to a Dim Sum restraurant/Wine Bar and a Bistro, both of which were packed. I never would have thought to put something there.

- Small, not big development. As far as I can see, NH has almost none of the large scale (110's, Waterplaces, Westins, etc) that Providence has going on. All of NH's transformation has happened intimately at street level, not in the air, giving the city a very different, pedestrian Upper West Side kind of feel, compared to how Providence is developing now. And unlike what many people here in Prov are complaining about (street level redos with upper levels of buildings untouched), whole building renovation seems to be happening there.

There are still problems, some of which NH shares with Providence. There are too many empty parking lots and parking garages scattered about (although they've converted a lot of ground levels of parking garages to retail, one with a market/cafe). The Chapel Sq Mall is still sitting there unused... Once you get to the fringes of the urban downtown area, the vision becomes more confused and kind of peters out, kind of like North Main here in Prov. The residents of some of the poorer and working class areas remain nasty and aggressive in mind-blowingly extroverted ways. NH still remains the US capital of seemingly normal looking people unprovokingly coming up to you on the street and just talking smack. I've never been heckled, etc more taking photography than yesterday in NH. I imagine that there has to be some tension, as those areas must be pressured and threatened by the enormous gentrification happening all around them.

My question to NH locals is how did all this happen? Is it all still brand new, or is this durable? Much of this wasn't even there 4 years ago when I was there for my 5th year reunion. I'm amazed. I never thought I'd ever consider living in NH again, but after yesterday, I'd definitely consider it.

Everyone here in the Providence board who cares about the future of our downtown should visit NH's and see what they've done.

- Garris

By the way, this will also serve as the introduction to some photos I took after seeing my friend. I didn't have a ton of time, but I got in a good number of shots. Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of street level photography despite all I praised above. There was a concert going on in the Green and Yale students returning, so there were tons of people and the sidewalk volume prevented me from using my tripod. I'll go back another time to have better illustrations of what I was talking about.

I didn't take any shots of Yale, except where it blended in with the cityscape. Better photographers than myself have photographed Yale to death, I own their coffee table books, and I went there myself. This was just city photography.

Here is a preview of some of the shots I took. I'll post more throughout the week!

The CBD from the Green:

nhcbdwithsign4ww.jpg

Retail in 9th Square:

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Some nice detailing on a historic building downtown:

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Looking through the trees on the Green:

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A cool building and neon sign downtown:

nhneonsign4if.jpg

And finally, a nighttime shot of the New Haven skyline:

nhskylinenight10zg.jpg

Enjoy!

- Garris

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Garris, I am glad you enjoyed your time in CT. I really like and admire what NH has done as well. The Chapel Sqaure Mall is actually apartments on the inside now, developed by College Street LLC. New Haven is a beautiful and vibrant city and a model that I hope and think Hartford will emulate. Oh yeah, those shots you took are fantastic. Maybe you can come take some in Hartford if you ever get a chance. :)

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I think New Haven is in this for the long haul. They've been working hard to make their city as user-friendly (not sure if that's the best choice of words) as they can, and it's working. I don't think they are currently concerned with being a big city like Hartford and Providence are, so they are content to fine-tune as many things as they can without the "Big Bang". The new Ikea doesn't hurt either....

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We all (Cornish) went there last summer, Garris. We were certainly impressed. With that said, there are major differences between Providence and New Haven. I think they're in it for the long haul, but there's something sort of creepy and inorganic about their revitilization, in my opinion. It kind of feels like an overly gentrified college town. Maybe I'm just overly critical.

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The buildings of NH have always been impressive. NH has a beautiful downtown area, albeit small. But that gives it a special New England feeling. It blends into Yale perfectly. Unfortunately it hasn't blended into the nearby neighborhoods (Congress Ave, Winchester, Wooster, etc) for a number of years. Much like Providence with their neighborhoods. What NH has always had is a downtown population. Many of the buildings you photographed look like the 4-6 story apartment buildings in the upper Temple street area. A residential population has always been there. There are no geographical problems such as the hills of Providence. My point is this. These two cities are very, very different. At best NH population was never more than 135,000. Compare that to Providence's 1925 pop of 263000. NH grew with broad avenues with large sidewalk areas. Nothing compares in Providence. Also, going on a weekend with incoming college students makes a difference. Providence is having its own incoming college student activity, but it is not involved with downcity. That will change with the RISD students.

The last time I was to NH was to visit IKEA in the Long Wharf area. LW is much different than when it was first formed nearly 40 years ago. NH gentrification has not entered the neighborhoods and until it does the two cities cannot be compared.

The question I do have for you, is Toads still there?

PS

Hartford would love to have New Haven's night life!

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Toads is indeed still there, running strong, but the area has changed a little. Certain places, like Demery's, aren't there (at least I didn't see it last time I was there), but there's still some slices to be had in the area after a good show. And, Hartford's nightlife is no slouch anymore, lot's of stuff going on, especially if you haven't seen the place in a few years...

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Toads is indeed still there, running strong, but the area has changed a little.  Certain places, like Demery's, aren't there (at least I didn't see it last time I was there), but there's still some slices to be had in the area after a good show.  And, Hartford's nightlife is no slouch anymore, lot's of stuff going on, especially if you haven't seen the place in a few years...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Of course we would love to have NH's or Providence's nightlife. But both would love to have our corporate infrastructure. All 3 are the best medium cities in New England as far as potentential and historical significance. I don't know who could argue with that.

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When I was leaving New York City 3 years ago people were talking about New Haven as an option for getting out of New York. It's urban, has much lower real estate prices, and is on the MetroNorth. So much moreso than Providence or Hartforder, New Yorkers are moving to New Haven and bringing their expectations with them. In Providence we have New Yorkers relocating in New Haven they have New Yorkers commuting. That creates new populations with very different needs and expectations.

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When I was leaving New York City 3 years ago people were talking about New Haven as an option for getting out of New York. It's urban, has much lower real estate prices, and is on the MetroNorth. So much moreso than Providence or Hartforder, New Yorkers are moving to New Haven and bringing their expectations with them. In Providence we have New Yorkers relocating in New Haven they have New Yorkers commuting. That creates new populations with very different needs and expectations.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Those "expectations" you're talking about is perhaps why Ari felt their rejuvention is a little "creepy" and "inorganic" to Ari. There's definitely a slick, NYC, Upper West Side sensibility of style grafted onto their downtown retail, restaurants, etc that is only reinforced by the more Upper West Side street layout (wider sidewalks, wider streets, less canyon-like and less nooks-and-crannies than Providence). The fact that it's happening seemingly all at once and seemingly with the same design and taste sensibility everywhere do give it a slight Stepford feel. And it's certainly not organic, all being pushed by a Yale-city partnership, I'm sure. However, based on what I saw and what my friend says, it's also working very well.

Question for Ari: What lessons (good and bad) did you all take away from your New Haven trip?

Question for locals: How is all of this happening? Who/what are the major players involved beyond the obvious (Yale and the city)?

- Garris

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It kind of feels like an overly gentrified college town.  Maybe I'm just overly critical.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yeah, it does feel more like Burlington now than Providence. I had long argued that New Haven should stop trying to be a "big city" and start being the best college town possible.

In a way, both sides fought that for decades. It was like the Mideast conflict - both sides knew what the eventual situation was going to be, but they fought it tooth and nail along the way. Yale fought being more involved in NH (both in terms of responsibility and financially), and kept treating the city like the ugly step sister, even if it acknowledged it at all. NH resented Yale tremendously and seemed determined to "make it" without the help or aid of the university. If Yale wanted plan A, NH always seemed to take plan B just for spite.

Eventually, the city hit rock bottom and realized that without Yale's involvement, it would just be a smaller Bridgeport. Yale, rebounding and resurging itself, was tired of seeing prospective students and faculty bolt for the friendlier and hipper confines of places like Cambridge, Princeton, and yes, Providence. It realized it needed to step in to stem the bleeding.

Amazingly, it all looks like it's happening. I do alumni interviewing for Yale, so I've seen first hand how tough a sell the city can be. Thankfully, it'll hopefully become easier now.

- Garris

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Sorry about this, read the next post by me

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New Haven is a great city!

College students are playing a bigger role then ever now in New Haven (in my opinion at least). The 2005 Princeton Review of The Best Colleges talked about how students from Quinnipiac University in Hamden flock to one of CT"s cultural centers (NEW HAVEN) so they can go to the shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, etc. and the book came up with the conclusion that students do like New Haven and this book is honest in students opinions and talks about whether or not students do in fact like their host city. In my opinion the city should make itself a college town since it is home to Yale, Southern CT State University, Gateway Community College, Albertus Magnus College, and the University of New Haven

Currently the state of CT is pumping millions of dollars into renovating Hartford, some into Bridgeport, into state transportations funds and just recently working to save the Groton/New London sub base (which they did!) and so New Haven was not on the top of their lists and so what New Haven has is thanks to private developers, small business owners, and local politicians.

I know somebody mentioned how New Haven doesnt have enourmous development projects like Providence or Hartford for that matter. One of the city's larger projects that can be put on the scale of building a convention center or luxury apartment tower deals with bring together the 11,000 students of Gateway Community College's two campuses into one downtown campus that (On the former Macy's and Malleys sites on Chapel Street) would also bring the Long Wharf Theater downtown. The project is still in the planning stages and in order to move forward the New Haven Colesium needs to be demolishedto make room for Long Wharf Theater. A demoltion date is set for October but some want the colesium knocked down others want it to stay and others want it renovated so the city can still have a civic center/arena like Providence, Hartford, Bridgeport, Worcester, and Springfield.

The Gateway downtown development plans also includes plans for a 300 room hotel with adjoining conference center. (4 national developers have approached NH about building a hotel/conference center on the colesium site). 280 mixed income residential units for George Street, and 54,000 square feet of retail space

On the transportaion spectrum

The only CT public transportation method that is used as it should be is Metro North which brings thousands of people from New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport and all towns in between into Manhattan. On the other hand the rest of CT's public transportation methods are not used by thousands daily because CT is a suburban state. Anyways the commuter rail has made a great tie between the City of New Haven and New York City.

Like many other cities suburbs began to expand and retail stores like Macy's in downtown New Haven closed because people could go shop at malls like Westfarms, The Shoppes at Buckland Hills, Clinton Factory Outlets, Westport Factory Outlets, the Danbury Fair Mall, the Brass Mill Center Mall, or Westfield Shopping town but thanks to the combination of employees working in New Haven and college students there are a lot of small business in New Haven today.

Even though New Haven may not be the size of Providence, I dont think it wants to be. I think the city has found itself and found out that it is a cultural city that thrives in the arts and entertainment area which means they may not be a sports based city but so what?

From the NH Green

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Yale

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Yale

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Yale

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Yale

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Chapel Square Mall

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One of the city's larger projects that can be put on the scale of building a convention center or luxury apartment tower deals with bring together the 11,000 students of Gateway Community College's two campuses into one downtown campus that (On the former Macy's and Malleys sites on Chapel Street) would also bring the Long Wharf Theater downtown. The project is still in the planning stages and in order to move forward the New Haven Colesium needs to be demolishedto make room for Long Wharf Theater. A demoltion date is set for October but some want the colesium knocked down others want it to stay and others want it renovated so the city can still have a civic center/arena like Providence, Hartford, Bridgeport, Worcester, and Springfield...

I think the city has found itself and found out that it is a cultural city that thrives in the arts and entertainment area which means they may not be a sports based city but so what?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yup, it appears the city has found itself... At least the downtown. NH has hatched some pretty silly ideas in the last decade or two, but the idea of bringing both Gateway Community and the Long Wharf Theater downtown are brilliant. That's exactly what is needed. I hope this happens. They don't need a new convention center or arena, especially with what is opening in Hartford...

That's one thing Providence has had going for it that New Haven hasn't... Downtown theater. Providence with have 4-5 major theater venues within 4 or so blocks of each other soon. In NH, sure there's the Shubert, but it never had much of an impact... It had its huge a** parking garage attached, suburbanites would drive up, park, and then leave. The Yale Rep has played more to the Yale community. A theater district, with the more repected Long Wharf coming into town (it never should have been on Long Wharf in the first place... A very suburbanish move from the 60's or 70's I think) would be great.

Despite all of our theater spaces coming online, that area of Providence doesn't yet have much of a "theater district" feel... What can be done?

- Garris

Some more NH photographs are below... This is the last of the updated bunch I'll cross post here... The rest of the updates will be in the Hartford section...

The Connecticut Financial Center, from the base...

cfc19ub.jpg

More 9th Square retail streetscape...

9thsqretail39fr.jpg

Looking past the church spires on the Green towards East Rock...

spireseastrock23rb.jpg

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Great photos!

The Gateway Project is a huge step in the right direction for the city of New Haven. The city has shown that is can suport people, visitors and business. Theaters and music venues in other parts of the state such as the Bushnell in Hartford, Hartford Stage in Hartford, the Dodge Music Theater (formely the Meadows) in Hartford and the Oakdale in Wallingford have shown that concerts and shows are willing to come to these venues so why not add downtown New Haven as a venue?

The hotel/conference center is a bad idea in my opinion. It is just another way of adding meeting space to an area that I am not sure can support much more, especially in New Haven where hardly any meeting space is. Hartford has plenty of meeting space including a new convention center and even the states casinos have plenty of meeting, have New Haven draw people in for a differant reason..to see a show or to go to school.

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New Yorkers are crazy, they'll seemingly commute from anywhere. I've met people that live in Clinton, Madison, and Guilford that commute to NYC. I'm sorry, but that's nuts, and super far to commute.

Good thing you mentioned the Shubert, Garris, I was wracking my brain trying to remember the name of it. Also, don't forget Mamoun's, the best falafels, ever.

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Could someone give us more info or even some photos of the Long Whalf area. I missed it during my visit to NH. All that I know about it is that there's a Marriott Hotel there and a OTB gambling complex with a huge shark tank inside.

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While NH has made significant strides over the last several years, it still has a long way to go. I left NH in 2003 after living there for a few years while in grad school, and found that it lacks alot of basic services (ie., supermarkets) and retail diversity. While Providence has the same problem, I think it has a more comprehensive plan to address it and is actively doing so...not sure if NH is doing the same. It may be a decent model in terms of aesthetic improvement, but not in terms of breadth and quality of retail and services offered.

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most of you know how i feel about new haven, but here's my 2 cents... the people of new haven have wanted this for a long time i think (or maybe it's the people who hang out in new haven...). i don't think there was a lot of new construction (aside from the new pfizer building). i remember the old new haven and you didn't go there. the "new" new haven is great, you can go there and feel safe and there's tons of people walking around at night all over the downtown area. i think that's the one thing that separates new haven from hartford. at night in hartford, you don't get people walking around downtown a lot except in that one little area by the bars and clubs.

as for the theatre... does the palace still exist? i remember some decent bands coming there...

the changes to the broadway area were decent, but a lot of people wish that yale allowed the local businesses to stay. they forced cutlers to move (although it's in a nicer and larger location now) and that whole area is what thayer is turning into... a lot of chain stores that no one really wants.

i think the differences between new haven and providence are that providence is thinking big and new haven is thinking small. new haven embraced the new york influence and i think providence needs to disjoin (is that even a word?) itself from the boston influence and do it's own thing. but i can't begin to say how much the connection to new york has helped new haven. i, too, have heard of a lot of new yorkers going to new haven for music events and getting out of the city.

and as many have said... new haven is in this for the long run... and i won't be surprised if this stretches out to the outer neighborhoods... the first thing they need to do is connect downtown with wooster st... that's a biggie...

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While NH has made significant strides over the last several years, it still has a long way to go. I left NH in 2003 after living there for a few years while in grad school, and found that it lacks alot of basic services (ie., supermarkets) and retail diversity. While Providence has the same problem, I think it has a more comprehensive plan to address it and is actively doing so...not sure if NH is doing the same. It may be a decent model in terms of aesthetic improvement, but not in terms of breadth and quality of retail and services offered.

I also lived in NH while in college and after and left...I know I say it often, but NH is simply not in the same class as PVD - therefore there is little to compare

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