Just as the spring flowers begin to open up, so too does the Elm City. As trite as it sounds, I honestly believe that the warmer weather transforms New Haven into a larger place for students. When long walks become pleasant rather than prohibitive, the number of places I’m willing visit on a given day increases exponentially. A woman I work with at the Yale University Art Gallery moved to New Haven from Brooklyn with her family a few years ago, and her sons refer to the Greatest Small City in America as “half a city.” And sometimes being here does feel like being in a city that has just a little bit less of everything than a full city. Ultimately, the boundaries of New Haven are non-negotiable. For a long time, it felt that the only way to leave campus was to go to New York. But in fact we’re able to either accept or challenge this smallness.
Mind games that distort size and distance can prove quite effective. Walgreens, for example, felt like a foreign kingdom to my freshman self, a journey I could embark on only with a friend, and only in times of emergency. (For instance, two years ago this week I ran out of Sudafed and was completely debilitated by the aforementioned spring flowers blooming and could hardly breathe or open my eyes.) But in subsequent years, I’ve gone to Walgreens to stock up on allergy meds without hesitation. Some places, however, still feel just a bit too far when I have to navigate through snow banks and walk into the wind to reach them. Warmer weather brings Wooster Square and East Rock closer to my usual orbit.
By car, however, these seasonal sensitivities to location change. Everything in New Haven is a 10 minute drive or less. Back in 2012, months of time at Yale passed before I really drove anywhere. The first time driving down Chapel was jarring. Being in a car felt confining and unnatural. I couldn’t wave at people, and all those faces I recognized didn’t see me. Everything moved so quickly. I discovered that I knew none of the one-way streets, leading to so many wrong turns I probably could have beat myself walking. I’m from Dallas, one of the most driving-dependent cities in America, so it’s not as if the world by car was foreign to me. Somehow, New Haven by car felt uniquely unrecognizable.
Over the past three years, I’ve had more and more occasion to drive. Whether I’m driving to Union Station or The Place, I’ve found myself behind the wheel with increasing frequency. I still have to drive in a loop to get back to my apartment, but at least I know I can turn right on Howe from Chapel. Last weekend I drove to the Book Barn in Niantic and R.J. Julia in Madison to acquire a stack of summer reading and spend time with friends outside our usual haunts. Driving made the occasion feel special, almost more like a miniature road trip rather than a lunch 20 minutes away.
Next year, however, my roommate is bringing her car to campus and so, for the price of half the parking spot, I’ll have a car too. I wonder if I’ll use these powers for good or for evil. Yes, it will make grocery shopping quicker, but it will also mean that I won’t walk pass the Green and contemplate the way that our hub and spoke public transit system isolates pockets of this city. If I’m taking a class on science hill, will I drive? In some ways, I’ll be grateful for the saved time, but I might miss walking through Beinecke Plaza. In the best case scenario, having a car won’t encourage me to leapfrog lazily through Yale’s campus, but instead enable me to venture beyond it more often. There are a million little road trips at my fingertips and this past weekend reminded me of that.
Having a car will both make New Haven a bigger city and stretch my Yale experience beyond the city limits. New Haven can be more than half a city if I choose to venture beyond its more accessible half.
Caroline Sydney is a junior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .