Think you know the ins and outs of New Haven? After being a student here for a year and a half, I thought I did. But after speaking with a number of Yale joggers, I realized that walking in and around the Yale campus reveals only a small tip of the iceberg that is the city of New Haven. Unlike Yale runners, I have not yet enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view from the top of East Rock, nor have I explored the funky stores and cafes in the artsy neighborhood near State Street. Indeed, traversing the streets beyond the close vicinity of the University campus grants runners access to an entirely new perspective on the neighborhoods of the city. Runners can perceive the minute details that car-riders often miss, and at the same time, the immediate contact with the surroundings helps them gain a more intimate connection to the city as a whole.
Up close and personal
Dan Bernstein ’05, president of Y-Run, Yale’s primary running club, reports that he has run in or near almost every single neighborhood in New Haven. His five primary jogging routes take him (and the typical 10-20 participating members) throughout the city, as the club’s standard runs include a route out to East Rock via Orange Street, down Chapel Street to the water, out to West Rock, out Edgewood road, and out toward the Yale Bowl.
Directly interacting with the inhabitants of a neighborhood can transform unfamiliar and potentially intimidating streets in New Haven into more comfortable areas.
“Actually going into neighborhoods makes me feel more comfortable in the city. I know the streets better, know which areas tend to be more or less safe, and really get a sense of neighborhoods and who lives there,” Bernstein says.
Running in New Haven can even heighten one’s racial awareness, as ethnicity stratifies many of the city’s neighborhoods. Jamie Kaiser ’06, who runs daily 8-mile loops and participated in the Philadelphia Marathon on November 22nd, reports that when he runs out Chapel Street toward the Yale Bowl with the running club, comments like “What you doing, Whitey?” can be expected.
However, some runners choose not to view such racially-charged remarks as alienating. “When we run up in the direction of Whalley and Edgewood, a lot of people out walking cheer for us or scream for us. It’s an interactive crowd,” reports Bernstein.
While Kaiser assures me that, in general, nobody bothers Yale runners, he cheerfully describes how New Haven youngsters encourage him with cheers of “Run, Forrest,” and even run alongside him or challenge him to races. His most bizarre incident occurred when a man on Chapel Street charged toward him as if in a football game — a collision was narrowly avoided when they both stepped aside at last minute, and shared a moment of laughter.
‘You really don’t want to be running here’
Running through the streets of New Haven also deepens students’ awareness of the socioeconomic divide that separates the lower and middle classes of the city.
“Running made me realize even more how stratified New Haven is — [there is a] really big contrast between undergraduate off campus housing — [and] the really nice neighborhood over by Hillhouse and East Rock,” observes Dawn Lippert ’06, who runs on her own and with the women’s club soccer team.
Many runners refer to Prospect Street as a distinct dividing line between the more and less affluent neighborhoods of New Haven. To the left of Prospect, runners jog past boarded-up houses, stores covered in spray paint, closed businesses and people sitting out on stoops drinking. This scene is a diametric opposite to the quieter and cleaner neighborhood to the right of Prospect, which is characterized by wide streets lined with expensive houses and well-manicured lawns.
Deirdre Cerminaro ’06 recalls an experience that abruptly opened her eyes to the stark contrast of New Haven neighborhoods. Cerminaro typically runs up Prospect away from the Yale campus, turning right when the street ends and running in the East Rock neighborhood. One afternoon, Cerminaro and a friend decided to explore the neighborhood to the left of Prospect. After a few minutes of running, a cop car stopped the girls.
“All of a sudden, this police car comes toward us and stops right where we are,” Cerminaro recalled. “The policemen are chuckling to themselves, [saying] ‘What are you guys doing here, and where are you from? — You really don’t want to be running here.'”
While Cerminaro maintains that she did not feel unsafe in the unfamiliar neighborhood, as she was running in full daylight and in the company of a friend, she cites the experience as an interesting wake-up call to how starkly out of place she and her friend must have appeared in the eyes of the policeman.
Yalies need not be runners to perceive the socioeconomic disparities of New Haven. All it takes is a trek from Morse College to Shaw’s on Whalley to be exposed to a neighborhood drastically different from that of the immediate Yale campus. Running throughout New Haven emphasizes the rapidity with which these transformations between neighborhoods take place. Kaiser cites the strip of Chapel Street that runs from Church Street past the New Haven Green up to College Street as a primary example of this phenomenon. One minute Kaiser is running past wig, tattoo and porn shops, and near grungy stores covered with metal grates; a single block later, he will pass the trendy restaurant Zinc and end up near popular Yale spots like Claire’s Corner Copia.
On the other side of the fence
Running also opens students’ eyes to the greener areas of the city. Many runners report that jogging certain routes allows them to forget that they are in a city at all.
“When you are at Yale you forget that you are actually right near the water and at the foot of two big mountains,” Bernstein observed. “Running reminds you how diverse the land is.”
Kaiser raves about the incredible view from the top of East Rock, which affords a look at masses of trees, the Long Island Sound, the flowing river, highway junctions, industrial complexes and even Payne Whitney Gym poking out amidst the rows of houses and buildings.
Indeed, without running outside of the immediate campus borders, many Yale students might assume that New Haven’s landscape is limited to that of the stereotypical urban city. Cerminaro hails from Sewickley, a suburb of Pittsburgh. For her, running in certain areas of New Haven “feels just like home, [because] it really reminds me of being in suburbs.” Runners note the expansive lawns and the Volvos parked in front of 19th-century Victorian houses in the Hillhouse and East Rock neighborhoods as evidence of a distinctly suburban atmosphere. Cerminaro praises this area as “greener and cleaner [than what] I associate with a city, because I am not from a city.”
Stop and smell the city
Running around New Haven not only reveals the environmental and social diversity of the city, but also allows for the uncovering of the special features that make the city truly unique. On a run one day, Lippert says she discovered a “really cool site I never knew existed before.” This site is Canal Pass, which parallels Prospect and can be crossed on the way to Science Hill.
Bernstein also enjoys discovering areas off the beaten path. One of his favorite running routes takes him by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a big V on a grassy strip near the water and past Long Wharf Theater. Runners have explored the little gourmet food stores on Orange Street, stumbled upon the campus of another New Haven college, Albertus Magnus, and enjoyed the arts center and attractive new plaza and walkway off of Whitney.
Yale runners report that jogging has allowed them to view New Haven from a more nuanced perspective. One of the runners’ most pleasant discoveries is the ease with which the vast range of New Haven neighborhoods can be traversed. You need not be a marathoner to travel outside the walls of Yale dormitories and discover the astounding diversity of New Haven. On brief jogs outside the central Yale campus, runners encounter sprawling suburbia as well as gritty city, serene natural beauty short blocks from urban bustle, and a variety of people whose skin color and socioeconomic status range across the spectrum.
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