Detailing city problems is only half the job

When Mayor John DeStefano Jr. delivered his annual State of the City address earlier this week, we were impressed and heartened by his candor. DeStefano coupled his evaluation of the past year with a call to improve public safety, housing affordability and citywide financial stability, which he bluntly identified as New Haven’s three primary concerns for the coming year.

But by the time the speech was finished, we had little further idea of DeStefano’s plans to address those concerns. Even by State of the City standards, this one was short on viable, developed solutions, and paid short shrift to some other problems that deserve attention from City Hall.

In his speech, DeStefano alluded to a “slight increase” in New Haven’s violent crime this past year, but his suggestions for addressing the issue seemed to rely primarily on fostering a spirit of mutual cooperation and sacrifice. While we do not specifically fault the mayor or his administration for the rise in violent crime, we find it difficult to believe that a commitment to good cheer will keep us from being robbed at gunpoint. The Yale administration has worked to allay concerns regarding rising crime rates to the extent that it can, but we were disappointed that the mayor did not outline a plan of his own to reduce area crime. His stated emphasis on public safety certainly could have been bolstered by further details on new plans to that effect.

DeStefano did propose some solutions in terms of housing and economic development, but we believe that his administration should reconsider its rather singular focus on development in the downtown area. We commend the recent revitalization efforts that have made the area surrounding Yale more pleasant and consumer-friendly, but we worry that a focus on these areas instead of less affluent neighborhoods threatens to widen an already gaping socioeconomic divide.

Of course, there is a reasonable rationale for pumping money into downtown development: More attractive residential and commercial space, even if concentrated in one area, feeds the city’s need for greater economic growth. But with his eye on the city’s shrinking tax revenue — further slashed by cuts to federal and state subsidies — the mayor neglected to discuss the state of New Haven’s public education system. While some of these schools benefit from their proximity to Yale and its students by means of tutoring and other programs, we are concerned that the relative paucity of city-sponsored initiatives signals the poor integration of this area of the city and other neighborhoods.

With a dozen State of the City addresses under his belt, there is no mistaking the incredible success DeStefano has had as mayor of New Haven, and his speech this week clearly reflected confidence in that success. Obviously, every city leader must seek to master the micromanagement of a million tiny projects, and it is with the little things — such as the hybrid vehicle parking initiative that passed this past year — that DeStefano truly demonstrates his commitment to progress. But with the scope of the issues still facing the Elm City, any real change to the status quo requires the strength of leadership to frankly discuss both the problems at hand and their solutions.

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