New Haven residents and city officials are embracing Yale’s plan to break ground on two new residential colleges next year — in sharp contrast with the city’s reaction when the University unveiled a similar project 42 years ago.
This past June, University President Peter Salovey announced that the University had reached its $500 million fundraising goal for the new residential colleges. This announcement, along with site approvals the University has already received from the Board of Alders and the City Planning Commission, clears the way for Yale to begin construction early next year. Although individual city departments, such as the Department of Transportation, Traffic & Parking, must still approve the site plans, City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that all major hurdles for construction have been cleared and the plans will most likely go forward.
Grotheer, along with several local residents and other city officials, said the project will serve as an impetus for economic growth and financially benefit the city of New Haven. Former Mayor and current New Haven resident John DeStefano Jr. said that because New Haven’s economy is rooted in “knowledge-based enterprises,” growing the city’s principal research institution will increase economic activity.
Perhaps most directly impacted by the expansion will be residents of Ward 22, where the two new residential colleges will join four other colleges already situated in the ward, which also includes the Dixwell neighborhood.
Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said she and her constituents are excited about the expansion because the construction will create new job opportunities for local residents and the influx of 800 additional students will drive up business for local stores and restaurants.
“We all know living here in Ward 22 that we live by the University, and the University is constantly expanding in a variety of ways,” Morrison said. “It comes with the territory.”
Forty-two years ago, when the University put forward yet another expansion plan, New Haven residents were not nearly as keen on the project. In 1972, Yale developed a plan to construct two new colleges in order to accommodate a growing student body. By the fall of 1972, the University had already made headway with the plans: Yale had received a $15 million gift from John Hay Whitney ’26 to fund construction, and an architectural firm had drawn models of the new colleges that would be built near Whitney Avenue and Grove Street. But on March 5, 1973, the New Haven Board of Alders voted 15–10 against a change in zoning that the University needed before beginning construction.
The change would have switched the construction site from commercial use to private use. Because the University did not pay taxes on its private properties, some alders said that the expansion would put a financial strain on the city.
In March 1973, the News quoted Alder Edward Piazza saying the expansion would have “no positive effects on the city.” In the same paper, Alder Alan DeLyle criticized the University for failing to include the city in the development process.
“There was never any community participation or input. We asked a lot of questions, but in reality we never got [any] answers,” DeLyle said.
In explaining the difference between the city’s response to expansion four decades ago and the response today, several University and city representatives pointed to an evolved town-gown relationship. While the University and the city were once seen as separate entities, everyone interviewed said that the two are now considered interdependent.
“That rejection began a long reversal in the history of the relationship between city and university which, despite many differences and natural tensions, now sensibly and practically understand that their fortunes are inextricably tied,” Special Assistant to the President and Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans said in an email.
When the University first proposed building two new colleges in the 1970s, the biggest employers in the city included Winchester Repeating Arms Company and Candee Rubber, history professor and New Haven resident Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02 noted. But now, Yale tops that list providing over 12,000 full-time jobs including 4,000 to New Haven residents, according to the Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
This growing influence means that the city and University must “work things out” when discussing development proposals that influence both Yale and the city, Gitlin said.
In line with this interdependency between town and gown, the University has involved the city in planning the new residential colleges. Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 said that Yale has kept the city informed about its plans and has remained open and responsive to concerns city officials have expressed.
For example, after hearing about the construction plans, Alder Morrison was concerned that the construction workers would occupy parking spaces in the already congested streets near in her ward. In response, the University reassured her that it will have the construction workers park on Yale-owned property instead of the streets, Morrison said.
She added she has been pleased with the way the University has communicated with her and kept Dixwell residents informed. No Dixwell residents have complained about Yale’s expansion since the University first announced the plans, she added.
The two new colleges will be located just north of Grove Street Cemetery.