New Haven is at a crucial time in its history. As its manufacturing sector continues to decline, our city is attempting to rediscover its identity and reshape its infrastructure and institutions within a larger region and within the knowledge-based global economy. Our viability as a community directly depends on our success in shaping these crucial institutions, and we can begin by studying the lessons from our past.
The failed experiment of urban renewal has taught us that we must design our community according to the wishes of its residents — and not those of developers with their own conceptions of the city’s needs. We’ve tried that approach before with developments like Macy’s, Malley’s, the Coliseum and the Oak Street Connector (Route 34). All of those developments are considered failures, and within the next 10 years all of them will have been replaced.
We must develop our cityscape by allowing more citizens to have more substantive input into the development process, or future projects will ultimately be unsuccessful. That alone, however, will not solve our city’s structural economic challenges.
There was a time in the history of our city when its residents could compete for good jobs without a college education. That time is over. If we want ensure that everyone in our city — especially those who find themselves trapped in cycles of poverty — can compete in this knowledge-based global economy, then we must invest in our education system. Unless everyone in our community has access to quality, affordable education, our entire community will fail to maximize its potential.
We also need to look at sustainable ways of transporting New Haveners across the city and throughout the region. Nearly one-third of New Haven’s families do not own a car. Not only is it difficult for those families to quickly navigate the city, it’s almost impossible for them to compete for jobs that might be available in other cities in the region. If we can develop a transportation infrastructure that is more sustainable, accessible and efficient, New Haven residents will be able to travel around the city more safely and compete for good jobs that exist as far south as New York City. We must envision our growth as part of our region’s growth and not just as an independent city.
If I have failed to articulate how my specific plans fit into this larger vision for New Haven, it’s because I value pragmatism. As alderman, I can’t single-handedly revitalize the local economy, build a new transportation infrastructure, or make every New Haven public school competitive with Andover, Exeter or even Hopkins.
We can manifest this vision that I have articulated, but only by cooperating with other local governments, our state and federal governments, and all the stakeholders in the private and nonprofit sectors. While pursuing these partnerships to work for broader change in our city, I plan to implement some specific changes that can be accomplished at the local level to further these goals.
I want to improve our local transportation infrastructure by building safer, sustainable streets. That means lowering the speed limit; widening sidewalks; narrowing traffic lanes; and building bike lanes, bike boxes and raised crosswalks where necessary.
I want to improve our school system by making the Board of Education directly accountable to municipal voters. Right now, the mayor appoints the entire board and its superintendent, but through revising the city’s charter, we can give parents more oversight over their children’s schools.
I want to work through public-private partnerships to develop our local economy by recruiting, nurturing and growing businesses that will harness our human capital and help us carve out a role in the knowledge-based global economy. By implementing these pragmatic solutions — while still remaining cognizant of the larger goals — we will make tangible progress during my time on the Board of Aldermen.
As Yale students, we have a real stake in the outcome of this election. The University that we love cannot be a strong institution unless it is located within a strong city. To that end, we must be represented by someone who has constructive plans to improve our education system, develop our local economy and build a safer, more sustainable transportation infrastructure.
With your support, I will work to further these goals and build New Haven into a more viable community — one step at a time.
Mike Jones is a sophomore in Saybrook College and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 alderman.