Yale University’s development is moving forward at a pace unmatched since the 1930s. In recent years, we have seen progress in the improvement of science facilities as well as steps towards the creation of an arts campus. Most significant, though, was the recent announcement of the likely construction of two new colleges off Prospect Street. This expansion represents a move away from the school’s late-1990s emphasis on improving Yale’s links with New Haven. There is little doubt that a healthy and equitable development plan could be created that would not sacrifice the gains made by the school in its relationship with the city. Today, there is talk of a major increase in the population of undergraduates; instead of siphoning them off to Science Hill, let’s make sure we consider whether we can, instead, keep them on Central Campus, all the while improving their experience and maintaining the urban character that distinguishes Yale.
The decision to push ahead with new colleges at the base of Science Hill, in what is now the locus of studies in Political Science, is a poor one. The fundamental problem with locating significant new investments in housing in this area is that Grove Street Cemetery, with its massive stone-clad walls, cannot be moved. As a result, students living in new colleges up on Science Hill would be forced to walk all the way around it to reach the center of the University, which is, and always will be, Cross Campus and Sterling Library. This is a liberal arts school — labs must be subordinate to the libraries. Such isolation would be detrimental not only to the lives of these students but also to the sense that Yale has a compact residential campus.
Also problematic is the fact that putting colleges so far from the city’s downtown limits their students’ ability to participate in the urban life that is slowly making New Haven an exciting place in which to live. All 12 of the existing colleges and Old Campus are within a block of either the Chapel, Broadway or Audubon shopping districts; this would not be true of new colleges on Prospect. Unless the University is willing to invest in a brand new retail zone on Science Hill, a very unlikely decision, this area will continue to be isolated, even with further investments in the sciences.
Yale has a deep interest in its relationship with the City of New Haven. Under the leadership of Richard Levin, this concern has been made manifest in the school’s development policy. The reconstruction of Broadway, the incentive program for staff to buy houses within the city and investments in the city’s downtown have led to a solidification of the connection between these two very dependent entities. Why cloister undergraduates away from all the progress that has been made? There is little question that Yale is an urban university, and it benefits from close contact with the shops and restaurants that have congregated on all sides. Growth in the undergraduate population should be dense and near existing colleges, allowing students to take part in the city and improving New Haven as a whole as well as the lives of the Yale population.
I do not mean to suggest that the University should not expand — in fact, I think it should — but it can do so in ways that are more accommodating to the city and better for students. Yale’s Central Campus is rife with opportunities for new growth. The large parking lot on the block between Temple, College, Elm and Wall streets (behind Hendrie Hall) could easily accommodate a new residential hall, as could the surface lot behind the British Art Center if the dismal and unremarkable 149 York building (home of the DMCA) were demolished. The new theater that is currently planned to be built here should be repositioned one block over, to the space behind Louis’ Lunch, to better connect New Haven’s existing theater district to Yale. These spaces are not only poorly used — surface parking lots are never a good use of space in a city’s center because they disrupt the pedestrian streetscape and could be more intensely developed — but they are also well-located.
Other University projects, such as new classroom buildings, ought to move up Science Hill, but the emphasis of new construction should be on Central Campus. That said, what should happen to the plot of land currently earmarked for new colleges, up on Prospect? Instead of new undergraduate dorms, let us consider expansion of the community confined to the area along Mansfield Street, with the construction of new apartments designed for graduate students, who are more likely to demand living space near labs and a community of their own. Undergraduates, on the other hand, should be housed near campus’ center.
Choosing to increase development in Central Campus would add to the vitality of downtown; imagine almost 1,000 new undergrads sharing the streets. Such an opportunity suggests that the development of Chapel and Crown streets could be intensified. But what is perhaps most exciting about the densification of Yale development downtown is the possibility of increased growth on Broadway. The surface parking lot across from the Yale Bookstore is a perfect example; one visit to Harvard Square suggests the benefits inherent when developing a triangular plot of land: large amounts of visible retail space, ease of movement from different parts of the city and the creation of an exciting intersection. The vibrancy of our rival’s surroundings in Cambridge illustrate just what is possible when a university’s growth is pushed towards its core. Broadway, in fact, has never achieved its full potential; rather, the one-sided retail spaces should face new stores in a multi-story building containing more moderately-priced clothing outlets, local restaurants and perhaps even a long-sought student center. Centralizing growth on Broadway makes a lot of sense if the new colleges are nearby.
Yale’s decision to embark on the construction of new colleges will play a major role in determining the experience of students on campus. We must choose to push growth in Central Campus, rather than on Science Hill, because this is, and always will be, the center of activity. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to steer the construction of the new colleges in a new direction.
Yonah Freemark ’08 is an architecture major with a concentration in urban studies.