The week before many of us left campus for Thanksgiving break, the City Plan Commission of New Haven approved the University’s plans to construct two new residential colleges in the triangular site north of the Grove Street Cemetery.
Given Yale’s densely built-up campus, there is no better location for the new colleges, and the construction of the residential colleges will enliven that part of campus by adding 800 new inhabitants. But if construction follows current plans, 800 undergraduates will find themselves surrounded by a cemetery, academic buildings and not much else.
But there’s a way out. Although nothing can reduce the colleges’ physical separation from central campus, the University can and should work toward bringing the lively, urban character of central campus to the area surrounding the new residential colleges. The University should transform part of Prospect Street between Trumbull and Sachem streets into commercial space, similar to existing and successful commercial areas such as York Street near Ashley’s or Wall Street near Blue State Coffee. Restaurants, coffee shops and small eateries along Prospect Street would provide social spaces and amenities that would make the area feel like home to 800 undergraduates.
Unlike central campus, the part of campus north of Grove Street was built piecemeal, over more than a century, without an overarching vision. This produced a monoculture of academic buildings, active during the day but quiet by evening. While central campus contains a multitude of libraries, eateries and retail that sustain activity and foot traffic past dinnertime, there are few welcoming social spaces north of Grove Street. In fact, until the opening of the café in Kline Biology Tower this year, there was not even a coffee shop in the area.
Placing the new residential colleges in such a landscape will create Yale’s version of Harvard’s Radcliffe Quadrangle. Certainly, the new colleges will not be as distant as the Quad is at Harvard, but they will be relatively farther from central campus compared to the other residential colleges, and the surrounding academic buildings will isolate them.
Currently, the University plans to fill the entire triangular site with the two new residential colleges. The University would do better to revise its construction plans by constructing commercial space either fronting Prospect Street or on the ground floor of the future residential colleges facing Prospect Street — an arrangement similar to Durfee’s under Durfee Hall or Willoughby’s Coffee in the Loria Center.
At the very least, something could be built on the small parking lot north of Rosenkranz. Another alternative, since the School of Management is moving to a new building on Whitney Avenue, is to repurpose the SOM building on the corner of Prospect and Sachem for commercial space.
In short, the University should do what it can to diversify the area with commercial activity. That part of campus needs liveliness, especially in the evenings.
Even without two new residential colleges, there is a market for restaurants, coffee shops and other eateries along Prospect Street. Currently, many faculty and graduate students purchase lunch from the food carts near Ingalls Rink. Every weekday during lunchtime, the parking lot near Ingalls Rink is filled with graduate students, faculty members and wonderful aromas. A sandwich shop or a café would probably enjoy similar customer flow during lunchtime and would also provide dinner options for hardworking graduate students.
The creation of commercial space near Science Hill will benefit not only the future undergraduates of the new residential colleges, but also faculty and graduate students already in the area. Fixed-location eateries would not only provide additional dining options but, more importantly, enhance academic life in the area by providing valuable social space. And needless to say, creating commercial space also benefits the University through rental income, the City of New Haven through additional tax revenue, and the small business owner through opportunities to turn a profit. A win-win-win.
Giving 200 more people a year the opportunities that a Yale College education provides is a worthy goal. But only by constructing space for coffee shops and eateries will the University make the Prospect Street area a home for future undergraduates. Given the University’s prior experience in establishing a commercial corridor along York Street and Broadway, it can be just as successful on Prospect Street in building a mixed-use landscape of residential, academic and commercial activity. Otherwise, Prospect Street will remain as it is today: an assortment of classrooms, labs and offices, with little else inviting people to stay.
Victor Zhao is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.