The early 1990s marked a difficult period for Yale. As the University bore the scars of the disastrous policy of deferred maintenance that had left much of its physical plant in outright disrepair, crime in New Haven surged. This state of affairs was symbolized most tragically by the murder of Christian Prince ’93 on the steps of St. Mary’s Church.
Today’s campus is unrecognizable from that of 20 years ago. Sustained and significant investment in facilities means that Yale is now among the best-equipped universities in the country. But such developments would have been in vain if downtown New Haven had failed to emerge from the midst of urban squalor. The city had to be transformed, and University Properties’ strategies arguably played the most important part in bringing about that transformation.
Many are swift to criticize the influx of upmarket chain stores like Gant, J. Crew and Apple onto Broadway. Their concerns are misplaced and regrettable. In a city that lacks a clearly defined central shopping area, these businesses attract many customers who appreciate convenient, high-quality local provision. Despite the frequently repeated suggestions that the stores are always empty, national firms do not routinely keep loss-making establishments open. What the critics actually mean is that they themselves never shop there — others, clearly, do.
Opposition to gentrification is most often rooted in inverse snobbery; since not everyone from New Haven can afford to shop at Gant, the argument goes, Gant has no place on a New Haven shopping street. Such a position is patently absurd and is the product of anticapitalists who are quick to examine the prices of the items being sold in a store and slow to see the value the store is bringing to a given area. It would be a cause for celebration if a boutique selling $10,000 watches wanted to establish itself on campus, since such a business would help set an upmarket and civilized tone for the area even if it did not become a routine student destination.
In many ways, the shops that choose to situate themselves in an area define that neighborhood. When decrepit stores, dirty cafés and shady bars become the norm, a street loses its self-confidence and goes into decline. Shoppers no longer want to spend time there, and the lingering fungus of crime is ready and waiting to take their place. Given the close proximity of the Broadway and Chapel Street shopping districts to the central Yale campus, it is profoundly in the University’s interests to ensure that they survive and thrive, which in turn creates a safe and secure environment for students.
Urban renewal does not, as some claim, mean that smaller independent stores have no part to play in a shopping district. The responsible development of the Broadway area has included space for two barbers’ salons, a dry cleaning store, a record shop, several independent cafés and restaurants, and a convenience store, all of which provide important amenities for students and residents alike. These businesses are helped by the presence of flagship national brands, which draw customers from further afield to an area that they would not otherwise visit.
At the same time, some recent developments threaten to reverse New Haven’s progress. The seemingly perpetual example of organized vagrancy called Occupy New Haven that clutters up the Green will undoubtedly deter investment in that area, while last year’s shooting at Toad’s Place underlines the need for the University to continue with the policy of gentrification that it has so far implemented expertly.
Those who oppose the sort of renewal that New Haven has seen are not progressives. If they had their way, neither the city nor the University would ever see any development at all. We must continue to ignore their envy-fueled complaints or else risk a lamentable recourse to the scenes of crime and squalor that once marred our campus.
A few short years ago, the idea of an Apple store setting up shop on Broadway was unthinkable; today, the store is established and successful, and we have UP to thank for it. In short, its policies have created a climate that allows prestigious brands to do business in New Haven. The consequences of this environment benefit students, consumers and local residents alike. We owe them our trust and support as they continue their excellent work.
Alex Fisher is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at email@example.com.