While many Yalies consider New Haven only a temporary home, others become attached to the city, choosing to remain here well after graduation. This month’s ‘Spotlight On’ focuses on three Yale graduates — Andrea Pizziconi ’01, Joyce Chen ’01 and Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 — who have made careers out of serving New Haven and helping it meet its potential.
In our interview, Andrea Pizziconi ’01 did not come across as a fan of buildings for their own sake — it was the people they affected that interested her. But I was still amazed (and, admittedly, bemused) by her obvious excitement for real estate. Her remarkable enthusiasm for the gradual renovations of a city was oddly fascinating. After the interview, she was off to shoot photographs of buildings covered with new-fallen snow, so that people could get a better image of New Haven. I was off to sit in my room and try to decipher a 45-minute, exuberant conversation about — um — filling up store vacancies.
“I came to New Haven for Yale, but I stayed at Yale because of New Haven,” said Pizziconi, who began working for Yale University Properties when she was a junior undergraduate.
After spending two summers interning for then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Pizziconi’s interests switched from the public sector to the private — more specifically, to real estate.
“Instead of trying to court private developers to do the right thing, I wanted to be the one making the right decisions for the city,” she said.
Almost four years later, Pizziconi is now a development associate at University Properties, “doing the right thing” for New Haven by marketing real estate on Chapel Street, Broadway and Whitney Avenue.
“People that used to stay [in New Haven after graduation, did so] because they wanted to save something. They wanted to give back to the struggling city, working at a nonprofit,” she said. “But now, [we] are staying because of the opportunities that we can have in the private sector. There are a lot more Yale seniors who say, ‘I’d really like to stay in New Haven. Do you know a good place for me?’ As much as I care about New Haven and want to change it, I realize that New Haven is the one that’s changing, and I want to learn from that change.”
Pizziconi explained her view of the city’s improvement in glowing terms.
“When I got here, Barnes and Noble had just opened, Broadway looked very different — it was before the redevelopment — Temple Street was completely vacant, and Crown Street was mostly vacant,” she said. “By the time I was a senior thinking about real estate, it occurred to me that there wasn’t another city in the country that had more fast growth and change than New Haven.”
Pizziconi’s post-Yale work in the city has given her a new understanding of town-gown relations, and she said she hopes current Yalies will re-examine their own views about the Elm City and recognize that, at least for now, the tension between the city and the University has been subdued.
She has the unique standpoint of knowing what Yale students want — from getting over 75 percent of Broadway merchants to stay open until 9 p.m. to bringing in retail stores and eateries that cater to Yale students’ tastes and budgets.
“We have — captive Yale students, without cars, that need to eat — and we have a lot of them,” she said. “In that sense, New Haven sells itself.”
But Pizziconi sees her work in New Haven as more than an economic venture. While private developers have their own agendas, University Properties can concentrate on a “social return,” Pizziconi said. The Yale Homebuyer Program, which gives $25,000 over 10 years to individual Yale employees to aid them in purchasing houses, is just one of the programs Pizziconi is glad to see put into action.
“The rest of the nation and other universities are acknowledging that we’re really pioneering with what we’re doing,” she said. “New Haven chooses to be a hotbed of pioneering social ideas and social services. The mayor, a few years back, said, ‘We have all different kinds of people here because we choose to be accepting.’ I really believe that.”
Pizziconi said she would like to be involved in New Haven’s development in the long term, but is considering going to law school before returning to continue her work in real estate. With an improved knowledge of local law, Pizziconi said she believes she would be in a better position to aid New Haven’s development.
“I love New Haven,” Pizziconi said. “The quality of life here is pretty great — it’s not like you’re cooped up in your room, there are plenty of places to go, plenty of great restaurants. I can’t wait to see in three or four years what happens.”
When Joyce Chen ’01 spoke of her run for Ward 2 Alderwoman the summer after she finished as a Yale undergraduate, it was in a subdued, self-conscious tone. While a student, she worked for a nonprofit organization as an outreach coordinator in the neighborhoods around Yale, which gave her a personal perspective on urban life.
“I felt like I had invested a part of my life in them,” Chen said. “Their problems became my problems.”
Being unsure about what to do with her life after graduation, Chen decided to run for alderwoman to try to solve some of the city’s problems. Her “campaigning” consisted mainly of wandering the streets of the Dwight-Kensington ward, “getting to know [her] neighbors.” She would introduce herself as an aldermanic candidate, then strike up a conversation.
“One of my constituents told me that she was in danger of losing her house, and what she really wanted to do with it was have a ministry in which she served unwed mothers,” Chen said. “She even asked me to pray for her — I would never have imagined doing that on a campaign trip.”
As she recalled this story, Chen’s voice suddenly got louder. The fervor with which she discussed her constituents greatly contrasted the modesty with which she spoke of herself. Chen’s modesty is matched only by her ability to listen.
“One person, after a long monologue, said, ‘I’m going to vote for you because you sat here and listened to me.’ I think he had a felony conviction, and, at the time, if you had a felony conviction, you couldn’t vote unless you went through extreme measures of restoring your voting rights, but he did it — just because I listened.”
Chen was elected to a two-year term in November 2001, beating out the ward’s Democratic favorite.
“It’s very important to me to be able to impact individual people,” she explained.
Chen’s recent forum had such a goal in mind. She brought in a former drug dealer and gang member to speak with a group of local youths about the possible consequences of his former life.
“They tried to act like they weren’t listening,” Chen said, “but when [the speaker] said, ‘I’m gonna be real with you, I used to be on the block in Fair Haven,’ they quieted down.”
Chen’s speaker spoke of his former gang friends and the dealers with whom he associated, most of whom had become “street legends” by that point. Eventually realizing that such a lifestyle could lead to prison or a violent death, he cleaned himself up, got an engineering degree, and began earning $17,000 a year.
“Afterwards,” Chen recalled, “I said, ‘If any of you guys want to turn your lives around like my friend did, here’s my card, give me a phone call. I won’t tell any of your buddies.’ Two girls came up to me right afterward and wanted to meet with me one-on-one.” Chen took them out for a meal.
“The cost of a few meals is nothing if I can get them off the streets,” she said. “I met with one of the girls already; she really wants it to be different for her life.”
Chen’s passion for social justice has governed her decision to remain in New Haven.
“Being involved on the local level really opens your eyes to the things that people theoretically talk about,” she said. “You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it ultimately comes down to the individual person.”
His office: desk neat, walls cluttered with memories. His manner: calm, reserved. Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93, associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, brings Yale and New Haven together.
“I’m now so old that I’ve lived in New Haven longer than freshmen have been alive,” Morand said. “It’s been very satisfying to see [the city’s] image turn around. It was so bad 10 years ago, some people would look at people like me who were boosters of the town and think we were a little bit out of our minds.”
Morand began his social work with a small nonprofit organization, followed by a job in the Chaplain’s Office in Dwight Hall, then two terms on the Board of Aldermen at a time when the city faced seemingly insurmountable problems.
“When we came into office in 1990, we had an $18 million deficit in a budget of about $300 million,” said Morand. “Crime was, if not out of control, close to it. The real estate recession was particularly fierce in Connecticut, and when the state gets a cold, the city gets the flu. One of the good things that came out of that period was the recognition on both sides that there needed to be a renewed relationship between the university and the city.”
Morand is very proud of current town-gown relations, citing such achievements as the Yale Homebuyer Program, research on substance abuse, several tutoring and mentoring programs in the public schools, and efforts to help the homeless and the mentally ill.
“Some people have the mistaken view that Yale is a social service agency or an arm of government that should be doing things like giving away the money that parents and alumni give or the federal government gives for research,” Morand said. “Yale can’t possibly address every social ill on the planet. We do a lot, though.”
The fact that the university has received city approval for building projects within the past few years is one example of the improving relationship between Yale and New Haven, Morand said.
“If you go back 30 years, the building of Yale Center for British Art involved enormous controversy,” Morand said. “Proposals, including the construction of a 13th and 14th residential college, were blocked. We [now] have a set of regular relations with the head of the African American Clergy Association, the NAACP, Block Watch captains — those sorts of daily interactions have increased on an exponential basis over the last 10 or 12 years.”
Yale’s increasing partnership with the city has led to improvements in the quality of life for New Haven residents, and an improvement in the city’s national image.
“A friend of mine from town who is not a Yale graduate has a daughter who is beginning to look at colleges, so they’ve gone off to look at other, similar institutions,” Morand said. “He called, unsolicited by me, and said, ‘The downtown environment around Yale is the most attractive.’ I think that’s right. Not to denigrate Harvard Square, but visually I think that New Haven — with the Green, Chapel, College Street, Broadway, Audubon Street, and the Yale campus — is [now] a more attractive place.”
Despite his disagreement with the unions’ current agenda, he sees their existence as evidence of the progress Yale and New Haven have made.
“Twenty years ago, when Local 34 was organized, I was involved in student support for [its formation], and I think that on the whole that was an important thing. It was clear at the time that pay and benefits were not what they should have been,” he said. “Circumstances have changed.”
New Haven itself has changed, in part due to Morand’s efforts. Nonetheless, as he stated more than once, “The image lags far behind the reality.” n