We’re living in Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s New Haven.

After his 20-year tenure, a once-abandoned downtown department store is now home to a bustling community college. Schools that were falling apart stand rebuilt inside and out. The city that once saw a Yale student shot to death on Hillhouse Avenue now stands as the University’s greatest partner.

As Yale students, we have many reasons to thank DeStefano.

The mayor has unquestionably made our city safer and stronger. Downtown development has helped to provide a much-needed tax base, drawing residents back to the city. Amidst increasing violence, the recent return to community policing under New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman has set the Elm City on the right track.

We can especially appreciate how a stronger town-gown relationship has brought fortune to both city and University — a result of the close, constructive partnership between DeStefano and University President Richard Levin, who will also be ending a 20-year tenure this year.

But as residents of New Haven, we have much more to do.

New Haven simply cannot afford to backtrack on these 20 years of progress. Our city’s gains could be easily undone by a politician with less experience.

But the next mayor must also succeed where DeStefano has fallen short, providing a more transparent leadership style than the Elm City has seen in recent years.

The manner in which the mayor has fundraised, accepting donations from city employees and contractors doing business with the city, has raised concerns for many in New Haven. And the appointment-based politics seen in government — most notably, with the Board of Education — must be reconsidered to build a more democratic New Haven.

We need a mayoral race with candidates who present specific policy proposals that will build on the foundation carefully laid by DeStefano over two decades, while promoting the ideals of open government. It should not be enough for a candidate to campaign on the platform that he or she will be different from DeStefano.

As Yale students, we want to know about the relationship between the potential mayoral candidates and President-elect Salovey — about their views on the relationship between Yale and New Haven. As residents of New Haven, we want to know how school change can continue, how our streets can be made safer and how the city can match up local residents with nearby jobs that require increasingly higher levels of education.

If there has ever been a time to become involved in New Haven, this is it. With a slew of candidates sure to fight for the city’s votes in September’s primary election, and an ongoing charter reform process set to change the very constitution of this city, the uptick in participation seen during the mayoral and aldermanic campaigns of 2011 must be sustained.

Yale and New Haven are about to undergo major leadership changes. We cannot sit idly by in our home city.