In expanding, Yale should avoid gentrification

This past week, as we worked on our column in a Bass Library study room, loaded with leather seating and plasma TVs, we thought something obvious: Yale has a lot of money. This is why we can afford such famous professors, accessible funding for the majority of student functions and extensive renovation and construction projects. The likely building of two new residential colleges on Prospect Street is just the next step in Yale’s ongoing development plans. Last semester, students considered the impact of these colleges on student life through the residential-college forums, but now we must also consider this development’s effects on the New Haven community.

The almost $600 million Yale intends to spend erecting these new colleges will certainly change the makeup of the surrounding neighborhoods. The influx of money into the community purports to develop the neighborhood, making it safer and more economically productive, but it does so by pushing out low-income residents who may no longer be able to afford rising property costs. Rather than seeking to shrink the gap between rich and poor in New Haven, this expansion will only change the location of the dividing line between the two. There is a name for this: gentrification. Gentrification is the process by which low-cost neighborhoods undergo change due to an influx of money which results in wealthier residents and businesses displacing the neighborhood’s prior residents.

Maybe you’ve heard about gentrification in the context of larger cities. Maybe you’ve been to Washington, D.C., or New York, N.Y., and walked around in neighborhoods you’re told were once dangerous ghettos. Or maybe you’ve seen the other side of gentrification — maybe you know someone whose family had to leave the neighborhood because the cost of living was too high or whose business closed because they could no longer afford the rent.

To take one example, most of you probably know something about Columbia University’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville. Their plan would allow them to develop nearly 17 acres of land on which residents are currently living. In December of last year, the land’s re-zoning was approved by the city council and what is called a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) was reached between the university and the community. The CBA requires Columbia to spend $150 million dollars on public housing and the creation of a grade school through their teacher’s college. In exchange for dramatically altering the Morningside Heights/Manhattanville community, Columbia agreed to work toward the betterment of the entire community, not just the institution.

New Haven and Yale are no different from New York and Columbia, or the hundreds of other communities across the country in which costly development has superseded the interest of the community. While the influx of money and resources into a poor community is important, too often there are no guarantees that these resources will reach community members or that thriving communities won’t be destroyed in the interests of development.

However, even in New Haven, we have seen that development can support the interests of both the University and the New Haven community. In 2004, when the Yale-New Haven Hospital announced plans to build a now-$470 million, state-of-the-art cancer center in the Hill neighborhood, the community took action, and, in March of 2006, the hospital and the city negotiated a CBA, in which the hospital agreed to provide a variety of benefits to the community, including a $1.2 million contribution toward housing and economic development in the neighborhood.

We have seen in the past that Yale’s expansion has occurred with little regard for the needs of the surrounding community and that one development often paves the way for future construction. Along with the new colleges, Yale plans on developing a third building with a currently unknown purpose. There is also the great possibility that Yale will seek to expand its commercial bubble around the new colleges similar to the retail development along Broadway. The building of the new residential colleges, and the corresponding commercial buildup of the surrounding area, must take into account the needs of everyone in New Haven.

The ill effects of gentrification can be prevented very easily. When big developers move in, they very often do have the money to tack on community development assurances of a huge construction project. If our $22.5 billion endowment says anything, Yale certainly has the money. What happens in one part of the city happens to us all, and responsible development is key in guaranteeing that the whole community can benefit from Yale’s resources.

Rhiannon Bronstein and Thomas Meyer are freshmen in Pierson College. Alexandra Stein is a freshman in Calhoun College. They are all members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.


  • Ryan D

    I wholeheartedly agree that Yale's expansion should proceed with a great sensitivity towards the needs of the wider community. This article, however, seems to raise more questions that it answers. Gentrification is generally always both a good thing and a bad thing; whether it's more good or more bad depends on the priorities of the person evaluating. Gentrification is great because it brings people with money back into the city, which makes the city safer and help reestablish vibrant urban life as an important part of american culture [with few exceptions it had become lost with the suburbanization of the late 20th century]. But yes, it does often displace communities who can no longer afford to live there, resulting in both a yuppification and a sterilization of the neighborhoods (i.e. a diverse neighborhood is a lot more interesting of a place to hang out than a neighborhood where only i-bankers live). I'm not sure what to do about it, since it is pretty much the free market at work and I don't want to see suburbanization continue to spread.

  • Hieronymus

    What, exactly, are these "ills" of gentrification? Is it the attraction of an educated earner? The influx of tax revenue? The increased safety? Desirability to young families?

    You have been in New Haven for all of ONE semester, and you think you understand the city, its history, its "ills" (and WHO has caused them)?

    You are in what was once one of America's greatest gems, now a burnt out shell, just barely on the mend. Get a few years under your belt, get a family, get a job (i.e., become a taxpayer), and then we can talk.

  • Hieronymus

    I should follow up: if YOU want the city to grow in a way different from that planned by Yale, then by all means, please start a business and develop some property. Rather than dictate how OTHERS behave, why not model that which you would like to see?

  • anon

    I have lived and worked in New Haven for 10 years. I have to say that this article is a load of baloney. Not only are all its premises incorrect (one of them being the fact that gentrification benefits the poor, who are very frequently able to remain in their homes, much more than anyone else), but also, the neighborhood and city are both in unanimous support of the University's expansion. Hopefully the University will expand even more rapidly than it already has been. Also, keep in mind that Yale is a unique university in the sense that it is not a "campus" -- it is a collection of blocks set within a city, more like the European model of a university. Yale is closely connected with New Haven, weaving through the city, and except perhaps in the minds of a few Yale students, there is no "dividing line" between the two.

  • City Priorities

    The question is not should we develop -- Yale must, New Haven must -- but how. Really only Ryan has addressed the complexity of the issue here; the other posters and the op-ed writers insist on seeing in absolutes. #4 is unquestionably wrong to say that "the neighborhood and city are both in unanimous support." And #3 fails to acknowledge that rising land values and hence rising taxes are a severe problem for not only a few lower-income residents, but, to judge by postings on the Independent constantly, also for a wide number of New Haven residents. And perhaps the most disturbing dividing line is how many students feel utterly unconnected to the city, even as many more involve themselves weekly in community activities.

    Still all the posters here are right that despite its failings and follies, New Haven is a better place to live today than 14 years ago, even though those benefits have not been evenly distributed.

    Mixed-income housing, affordable apartments, and a few stores that aren't yuppie boutiques (which even students avoid) would go a long way. And a University that actively supports unionization rather than turning a blind eye. The city can support this with zoning laws, but the University can do the most, because it has the cash and the long-term obligation and relationship that random businesses coming into New Haven might not.

  • UOC lost its relevance

    Sorry, but the UOC lost its relevance as a relevant organization a long time ago when they decided to pull that stunt involving chaining themselves to the admissions office, and then subsequently taking credit for forcing Levin to revise his financial aid policy.

    Oh, and freshmen shouldn't be allowed to write op-eds or have columns. Period. They need to have at least a year under their belt before they can even begin to truly understand how the university works--otherwise, it's the same recycled drivel.

  • anon

    City Priorities, higher land values do NOT result in higher taxes. It's really the other way around.

    Taxes have been going up because of the inflation rate and increased cost of providing municipal services. In order to continue to provide a high level of services and attempt to reduce taxes on everyday citizens, what the city needs to do is build its tax base by trying to raise land values and attract more valuable development, not the other way around. The city should be encouraging Yale to build here as rapidly as possible if it wants to be able to survive and thrive.

    Unfortunately, because of New Haven's high construction permitting fees and union shenanigans, it is unlikely that Yale will continue to expand in New Haven at its current breakneck pace -- I think that after it finishes the already-planned 2,000,000 SF in New Haven, Yale will prefer to develop future new buildings on the 140-acre "West Campus" out of town.

    Because of these realities, the city is in unanimous support of Yale's expansion. Obviously there are a few dissenters but the neighborhood and city consensus, across all levels, is that Yale should expand as rapidly as possible. Every new building built or renovated by Yale University results directly in a massive increase in jobs and tax revenue (PILOT and voluntary payment) to the City of New Haven.

  • Joe A.

    if Yale has voluntary payment to New Haven then why is the Mayor running to Hartford crying over these not-for-profits that are properties leaving our tax rolls? Yale has done wonders for NH,thanx,blue people.
    our taxes are really going up due to the Exploding size of our Gov't,City Halls relentless hiring and they have nothing to due,raises for Union support,the shennanagins are from Hizzoner.and his misappropriation will call for higher taxes where residents will fall by the wayside and lose their homes,it can only benifit Yale and the Gendmarms who contribute to Politicians