When Froyo World’s mom-and-pop treats roll in on High Street, students cheer. When they hear that Gant will be coming back to town, they decry gentrification and an abundance of preppy clothing stores. But few students know who brings these stores to downtown New Haven, or think about how these decisions impact New Haven as a whole.
University Properties manages Yale’s commercial property, including over 90 retail tenants, the overwhelming majority of which occupy lots within a few blocks of central campus. Many are fond of claiming that “Yale doesn’t pay taxes” on its academic property. Few are aware that Yale is by far the largest real estate taxpayer in New Haven, filling city coffers with nearly $4 million in commercial taxes annually.
The disconnect between UP and Yale’s students is unfortunate for the University and for New Haven. We believe that UP genuinely values student input: It periodically e-mails online surveys to a subsection of each class and makes paper ones available in some stores, such as Willoughby’s and Ashley’s Ice Cream, asking for customers’ thoughts on what types of retail they would like to see downtown and for demographic information. Although we appreciate UP’s concerted efforts, they have yet to reach the majority of the student body.
But we as students need to meet UP halfway. The first step is knowing that UP exists. But beyond that, students could be more constructive with their strong opinions about how to make New Haven a better, more economically healthy place.
When storefronts remain vacant on Chapel Street, students notice the need for revitalization, which would benefit both Yale and the greater New Haven community. Yet since the lines of communication are murky, solutions are difficult to reach.
Countless Yalies are dedicated to community service and to ensuring that Yale engages responsibly with the world around it. They do so through Dwight Hall member groups, who help the homeless and work in New Haven public schools; through STEP, in recycling initiatives and pushing Yale to be more sustainable; or through the Responsible Endowment Project, monitoring Yale’s investments, as well as through many other organizations.
UP gives students a unique opportunity both to keep Yale honest and to have a say in changing the community in direct, practical ways. Yet few of us speak out.
Yale students care about the community. UP wants to know what we think. But both sides must work to bridge the gap. UP should give us more opportunities to make our voices heard. This could be as simple as broadening their online surveys to resemble what Yale Dining does now. At the same time, we hope that students — armed with the knowledge that UP is an important outlet for engaging with the city — will provide more feedback regarding the businesses our University brings to New Haven, whether that means responding to surveys or taking the initiative to look into UP themselves.
Yale exerts extraordinary economic influence in this city, even this state. As students, we can contribute to many of the University’s most influential decisions. UP offers a powerful opportunity for students to weigh in. We should jump at the chance.