FISHER: A defense of gentrification

The early 1990s marked a difficult period for Yale. As the University bore the scars of the disastrous policy of deferred maintenance that had left much of its physical plant in outright disrepair, crime in New Haven surged. This state of affairs was symbolized most tragically by the murder of Christian Prince ’93 on the steps of St. Mary’s Church.

Today’s campus is unrecognizable from that of 20 years ago. Sustained and significant investment in facilities means that Yale is now among the best-equipped universities in the country. But such developments would have been in vain if downtown New Haven had failed to emerge from the midst of urban squalor. The city had to be transformed, and University Properties’ strategies arguably played the most important part in bringing about that transformation.

Many are swift to criticize the influx of upmarket chain stores like Gant, J. Crew and Apple onto Broadway. Their concerns are misplaced and regrettable. In a city that lacks a clearly defined central shopping area, these businesses attract many customers who appreciate convenient, high-quality local provision. Despite the frequently repeated suggestions that the stores are always empty, national firms do not routinely keep loss-making establishments open. What the critics actually mean is that they themselves never shop there — others, clearly, do.

Opposition to gentrification is most often rooted in inverse snobbery; since not everyone from New Haven can afford to shop at Gant, the argument goes, Gant has no place on a New Haven shopping street. Such a position is patently absurd and is the product of anticapitalists who are quick to examine the prices of the items being sold in a store and slow to see the value the store is bringing to a given area. It would be a cause for celebration if a boutique selling $10,000 watches wanted to establish itself on campus, since such a business would help set an upmarket and civilized tone for the area even if it did not become a routine student destination.

In many ways, the shops that choose to situate themselves in an area define that neighborhood. When decrepit stores, dirty cafés and shady bars become the norm, a street loses its self-confidence and goes into decline. Shoppers no longer want to spend time there, and the lingering fungus of crime is ready and waiting to take their place. Given the close proximity of the Broadway and Chapel Street shopping districts to the central Yale campus, it is profoundly in the University’s interests to ensure that they survive and thrive, which in turn creates a safe and secure environment for students.

Urban renewal does not, as some claim, mean that smaller independent stores have no part to play in a shopping district. The responsible development of the Broadway area has included space for two barbers’ salons, a dry cleaning store, a record shop, several independent cafés and restaurants, and a convenience store, all of which provide important amenities for students and residents alike. These businesses are helped by the presence of flagship national brands, which draw customers from further afield to an area that they would not otherwise visit.

At the same time, some recent developments threaten to reverse New Haven’s progress. The seemingly perpetual example of organized vagrancy called Occupy New Haven that clutters up the Green will undoubtedly deter investment in that area, while last year’s shooting at Toad’s Place underlines the need for the University to continue with the policy of gentrification that it has so far implemented expertly.

Those who oppose the sort of renewal that New Haven has seen are not progressives. If they had their way, neither the city nor the University would ever see any development at all. We must continue to ignore their envy-fueled complaints or else risk a lamentable recourse to the scenes of crime and squalor that once marred our campus.

A few short years ago, the idea of an Apple store setting up shop on Broadway was unthinkable; today, the store is established and successful, and we have UP to thank for it. In short, its policies have created a climate that allows prestigious brands to do business in New Haven. The consequences of this environment benefit students, consumers and local residents alike. We owe them our trust and support as they continue their excellent work.

Alex Fisher is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at alex.fisher@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Frashizzle

    “Gentrification,” as you refer to it, is but the byproduct of a larger signaling game. Why buy a sweater at Gant? Not because it’s more comfortable or higher quality (if you think that this is the case, then you’ll probably need to repeat Intro. Micro.), it’s because the flamingo thing that they put on their shirts is a signal of wealth. Now that that’s out there, let’s get to the core of your argument: that gentrified stores somehow attract wealth to New Haven. You’re, exactly, the opposite of correct regarding this point. Granted that the J-Crews of New Haven are indeed profitable (which they are), they exist because Yale and New Haven provide a large consumer-base for their items. If we didn’t have the stores, people wouldn’t be less rich! Stores arise because of rich consumers, not the other way around. Now, if we consider this point, then why should university properties promote one particular type of store? The answer: they shouldn’t. If the stores are profitable, they will arise naturally. J Press doesn’t make a neighborhood good, a good neighborhood attracts a J Press.

  • Frashizzle

    Also, I dislike how you used the term “civilized.” If one is wealthy, it probably only indicates that he or she doesn’t understand free market economics well enough to realize the immorality of wealth accumulation.

    • River_Tam

      Yep, wealth accumulation is “immoral”. Which is why you’ve given away all your worldly possessions to the starving people of India, right?

      • Frashizzle

        Haha, I never claimed to be moral myself… but I do think of my self as a immoral, rather than more “civilized” than the poor.

  • grumpyalum

    You miss the point – Downtown New Haven should not become another Harvard Square, an area which is completely unsuited for college life. The late night restaurants, the cheap eats and the copious bars that make New Haven at least bearable for undergrad continual to be attacked while we got more upper-class retail stores that most of the student population simply can’t afford.

    UP has made some very wise decisions in the past. Others deserve to be questioned.

  • tomago

    As a Yale alum with 30 years of business/ life experience [that could buy and sell the likes of a fallow snarky twit such as yourself], I find your patronizing essay beneath that of YDN. Shame on the editors, as for you, I rarely bother to spank children, even inexperienced snotty ones.

    • phantomllama

      Despite your professed experience, you haven’t mastered eloquence. Your comment is close to being incoherent. Do you even know the difference between an op-ed with a byline and a newspaper-approved editorial?

    • Frashizzle

      I don’t understand why you signal yourself as a bourgeois and then proceed to denounce A Defense of Gentrification. The comma-splices and other grammatical errors present in your statement also cause me to question your credentials. As you know, with all of your experience in business, the first sentence of your comment is just an arbitrary mix of electric currents affecting LEDs on a computer screen without any sort of excludable signaling mechanism to back it up.

  • joey00

    Most of the students i see and talked to crave for the mom and pop stores.”Do you know where a bacon & egg diner is around here ? Is a mantra, (sort of like,”give me a dollar cracker” that poots forth from planted locals on Broadway,or the car alarm) The hidden and under the rug issue is the number of grad students,research people that are on food stamp supplements)and outright welfare – and what’s up with their working/student W-2′s coming from Texas ??
    Hence the brutal necessaty for a Stop n Shop etc – even friendly little bodegas with the big sign saying – We Accept Wic

  • rrobins33

    Re your comment:”The seemingly perpetual example of organized vagrancy called Occupy New Haven that clutters up the Green” – I would suggest you take the trouble to go over there yourself and find out a bit more about the occupiers on the green and see who they are and what they stand for before denouncing them in such a pompous manner. I had the privilege of meeting with many of them out in the snow last weekend while visiting my son, a student at Yale Law, and I admire their fortitude, their organization, and their determination to bring to the attention of the community many of the issues about which privileged students like yourself would do well to care. And I can assure you that there wasn’t a vagrant among them!

  • The Anti-Yale

    I have a hate/love relationship with snobbery.

    But I gotta tellya: I never felt so wealthy as I did when I was an undergraduate in Ithaca wearing a Gant shirt.

    That was back in the days when shirts had to be sent to the dry-cleaner and starched and pressed (1964- 68) before permanent p-press was invented.

    Those things used to be made out of substantial material, had fantastic shoulder definition and sleeves with heavy cuffs, long enough for a 6’2″ guy like me.

    I worshipped the OLD Gant feel and look even though I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and had to work 3 part-time jobs to get through Ithaca College.

    I’m not sure the new Gant feel is the same.

    Hail to thee, brand-name snobbery, emblem of Old Money and of a lost age, before the middle-class metastasized.

    PK

    PS

    Remember Jay Gatsby, giving a tour of his mansion to Daisy and Nick, taking forty starched shirts off his closet shelf and tossing them in the air as if they were gold coins, symbols of his affluence?