We live in the heart of New Haven. For at least four years, at least eight months each year, this city is our home.

We walk its streets, shop in its stores, enjoy its parks, and engage with it in countless ways as we discover that leaving home to go to college is not only an academic experience. As we make the decisions that affect our personal lives every day, we learn also that we can influence the decisions that shape our city.

The first step is to get invested in New Haven’s future. This city is not some place where our school happens to be, but a vibrant, living town with a wonderful arts scene, great nightlife, and a growing shopping district. We get to take part in it, and we should be proud of New Haven and want to make it better.

To make it stronger, we must start by registering to vote here.

Registering to vote is not only a symbolic act that connects us all to New Haven’s civic and political life. We can make a difference with our votes. In a town the size of New Haven, Yale undergraduates already control one seat on the City’s Board of Alderman (and hold sway in several wards), and we can affect outcomes in races for the state legislature and for mayor. When we vote, our ideals and our vision for the future help determine how strong this city can be. However, we only exert influence when we register, when we demand that politicians respond to us, and when we get out in November and vote.

In spite of the great things happening in New Haven, there are many problems that need our attention. Our schools do not receive enough funding. Thousands of people have no health insurance. Determined men and women cannot find jobs in the city. Finding affordable housing has become a serious challenge for many residents. Hunger and homelessness exist in this, the richest state in the country.

If we are to take ownership of New Haven, as I hope we all do, then we must work to overcome the challenges even as we enjoy all the beauty in this town. As we walk to the top of East Rock Park and get that startling view of Long Island Sound, we must also recognize the issues of the immigrant communities in Fair Haven and raise our voices for justice. As we lounge on the New Haven Green on some perfect New England autumn day, we must also demand equal opportunity for the residents of housing projects in the Dixwell community.

As we walk through the historic neighborhoods of New Haven as citizens, we are given the amazing opportunity to grow along with the Elm City. We should use it.

Ben Healey is a junior in Branford College. He is the Ward One alderman.