In the time since its inception this summer, a city task force dedicated to revamping New Haven’s image has concentrated its efforts on improving parking access and street safety.
In 2002, 2005, 2012 and then again this past spring, Market New Haven — a public-private partnership jointly supported by the University, Yale-New Haven Hospital, City Hall and several local businesses — surveyed residents living in a 50-mile radius of the Elm City to gauge their opinions on topics ranging from safety to economic vitality in the city. Market New Haven’s most recent survey this year indicated that citizens believed that New Haven had improved as a city but still felt that safety issues needed to be addressed, according to President of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce Tony Rescigno. In response to these results, this past summer Mayor Toni Harp called on city officials and Yale administrators to form a task force to discuss ways to address these challenges and improve perceptions of the Elm City.
“The mayor asked, ‘Why don’t people have a good image of New Haven, and what can we do to fix the actual issues that people are complaining about?’” said City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, who is also a member of the task force.
City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer dubbed the task force “an outgrowth of Market New Haven” that addresses both micro and macro issues, ranging from maintaining street lights to bringing down violent crime.
Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 said that, in response to the specific concerns raised in Market New Haven’s spring survey, two of the main factors discouraging people from visiting New Haven include parking access and panhandlers. Though Alexander does not serve on the task force, Assistant Director of New Haven and State Affairs Lauren Zucker is a regular attendee of its meetings.
Alexander said the city planned to address the issue of panhandlers by investing more in homeless shelters to keep citizens off of New Haven streets. Nemerson added that the task force has discussed implementing parking promotion programs that would offer restaurant-goers free or validated parking to draw more people to New Haven eateries.
“Often times when people who haven’t spent time in New Haven think of crime and urban blight when they think of the city,” said Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, former Ward 10 alder and the main challenger to Toni Harp in the 2013 mayoral election. “We should be working harder to highlight what’s great about this city.”
Yale has been an especially strong contributor to Market New Haven, an organization formed in 2000 to promote the Elm City’s major attractions, including the Connecticut Open and improve the perception of the city through advertising, public relations and event planning.
According to Alexander, the University provides about $250,000 of Market New Haven’s $1.5 million yearly budget.
“Yale decided that they wanted to take a very strong role,” Nemerson said about the founding of Market New Haven. “I think they realized that the student body and the faculty were being influenced by the fact that people thought New Haven wasn’t a great place.”
Alexander added that the image of city is important for Yale when recruiting employees.
Nemerson said that since 2000, cooperation between the University, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the city to address city issues has continued, but Harp’s perception task force hopes to address the city issues causing negative public perception of New Haven instead of focusing on advertising campaigns.
City officials have also underscored the importance of the media in portraying a positive image of New Haven.
Adam Joseph, spokesperson for the Connecticut Senate Democrats, said there are many city initiatives — including programs organized by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees and investments in transportation — that residents might not notice due to lack of media coverage. He added that New Haven competes with other major cities in the state to attract residents, employees and businesses.
“The city is more than police officers, parking tickets and snow removals. It’s a million different pieces and programs that sometimes don’t get attention, and folks feel like they don’t get the attention they need,” Joseph, a spokesperson for former Mayor John DeStefano, said.
After the task force was formed, Rescigno arranged a meet-and-greet between Harp and Kevin Corrado, publisher of the New Haven Register.
Community officials and business owners were present at the meeting, focused on discussing the media’s role in presenting the city in a positive light.
“We are not trying to alter the news in any way, but if the city does well, then all of its parts, including the Chamber of Commerce and the businesses and the newspapers, do well,” Rescigno said.
Elicker added that a positive reputation would drive New Haven’s economy by drawing businesses and residents to the city, and a healthy economy would allow the city to allocate resources to address crime and public safety.
Market New Haven’s spring study surveyed 820 state residents.