Scott Healy’s first experience of New Haven was hardly encouraging.
Following a campus tour as a prospective Yale student, Healy ’97 said his fellow prefrosh complained to the student recruiter that New Haven was the only drawback of Yale. And the student recruiter agreed. Since then, Healy, a Connecticut native, has strived to change people’s perception of the city and his home state.
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“The student in the admissions office was very negative of the state and the city,” he said. “I had it on the back of my mind that I was going to be that guy that would work to change perceptions of the state.”
Healy did not intend to stay in New Haven when he graduated. But 10 years later, he is now the executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, a nonprofit organization in New Haven that markets the Town Green district to prospective businesses and visitors. He truly believes that every building or city — no matter how dilapidated or destitute — has potential to improve.
Healy’s work in New Haven was inspired by a seminar in urban studies, taught by Cynthia Farrar, which he took as an undergraduate. While the seminar highlighted the extent to which an individual can effect change in a city, he said, it also taught him that the change New Haven needs more involves tweaking parts of the system than overhauling it, the latter of which could be detrimental to the city.
“The savior complex is good and bad,” he said. “It leads to seeing New Haven as a project and never as a city. It is not a city to be saved. It is a city with lots of potential that needs to be realized.”
As an undergraduate, Healy majored in Ethics, Politics & Economics, and spent the bulk of his extracurricular time singing for the Duke’s Men. He also stayed faithful to his original mission and became a tour guide, learning the bulk of his knowledge of the city’s history on the job.
Healy said he tried to take his friends and visitors on his tours beyond the central campus to the heart of the city, where they could discover its charm and beauty.
“A lot of my friends will say I was the person who would take people out on road trips, throwing them in a car and getting them to places they had not been to before,” he said. “I learned enough about the city’s history that I could give tours of the city.”
But Healy said he had little interest in staying in New Haven after graduation and was considering a career in international diplomacy or urban development outside the United States.
Yet in 1998, he returned to the Elm City, first working in the School of Architecture’s Urban Design Workshop and then as business manager for the Town Green Special Services District. He became the executive director of the organization in January 2001.
Healy said the city’s open-mindedness convinced him to return to New Haven a year after he graduated from Yale — a motivation he suspects is shared by many other Yale alumni who choose to stay in town following graduation.
“New Haven opens its doors to people with passion and ideas, and I think that is what really kept me here,” he said. “The drawback, of course, is that there can be a bit of a stigma [about Yalies who stay in the city].”
In the six years since he became executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, Healy said, he has expanded the organization’s mission from simply keeping the district clean and street-safe to marketing it to visitors and residents. He pioneered the creation of infonewhaven.org, a Web site meant to inform residents of upcoming events and to give visitors an accurate image of the city before they come.
“There is a big difference between the way people perceive New Haven and the way it really is,” he said. “We make sure the Web site is something that shapes their expectations.”
Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said that while some people run into occasional disagreements when working with him, Healy has brought good management skills to the Town Green District and effectively balances the needs of property owners, developers, shopkeepers and visitors.
“He is tenacious, he is stubborn, he is often difficult to work with, but because of all that he produces and things get done,” Bialecki said. “What Scott brings to the table is a much more comprehensive view of how a downtown works and how you manage it.”
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said that in addition to his work in the Town Green District, Healy has reached out to other neighborhoods to improve the city as a whole, not just its downtown.
While the urban development of New Haven continues to fascinate him, Healy said, he is still attracted to urban development abroad, in Europe in particular. There is a certain charm to European cities that he is eager to experience, he said.
“There is this relatively chaotic environment [in European cities] that had this incredible order,” he said.
But for now, Healy is happy riding his bike to work every morning in the Elm City.