Panel tackles Rae’s ‘City’ book

A panel made up of academics, politicians and journalists spoke to an overflowing audience at Luce Hall Thursday evening about professor Douglas W. Rae’s new book, “City: Urbanism and Its End.” They each praised the book and presented their own thoughts on the current and future state of New Haven.

The book focuses on how government spending fails to bring back the vitality of a city — New Haven in particular. Instead, Rae argues that everyday neighborhood interactions should be given more attention as an impetus for urban renewal.

Rae expressed his gratitude to the many people in New Haven who contributed to the writing of the book and described it as a 20th-century story of New Haven.

“It hinges on New Haven going farther to renew social development than any other city against the emerging economic difficulties from the 1920s and on,” he said.

Professor emeritus of history Gaddis Smith praised the book for its unique viewpoint.

“I think it’s the best book written on New Haven and on any American city,” Smith said.

Smith, a resident of New Haven since 1950, said he has witnessed the changing role that Yale has played in the revitalization of the city and commented on the larger contribution the University has made.

Fred Siegel, New York Post columnist and professor of history at Cooper Union, agreed with Gaddis’ praise and joked that he will no longer need to lecture his students.

“The book will become its classic example of urbanism,” Siegel said. “It is a marvel of concision and insight.”

He said his only complaint is that the book is too short.

“I can’t wait for the second book so that I’ll have no work for the semester,” Siegel said.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. acknowledged the academic value of the book and said he hopes it can also serve as a lesson in restoring urban vitality. DeStefano, who grew up on East Street in a three-family house, said he appreciated the details that Rae included about the connection between grocery stores and other familiar sites, and the life of a city.

New Haven Advocate columnist Paul Bass also said he was impressed by the detailed research that went into writing the book.

“I would have never gotten one-fifth of the way [he has] gotten,” he said. “What I love about Doug’s book is the reporting.”

In addition, Bass noted Rae’s focus on the importance of maintaining a sense of community. However, he also made reference to the people who were uprooted from their neighborhoods during reconstruction of the city, and stressed the importance of listening to the needs of the residents of the city. He said progress must be brought about in a democratic way.

“The individuals do make a difference,” Bass said.

Bill Brown, director of the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, focused on Rae’s reference to “fauna” in the book.

Like in an ecosystem, Brown said, it is the collaboration of different species with common interests that will dictate the success or failure of a city.

Yale professor and author Douglas W. Rae signs copies of his new book
Leo Stevens
Yale professor and author Douglas W. Rae signs copies of his new book "City: Urbanism and Its End" at Luce Hall Thursday evening.

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