I went to a little conference today at Yale University in New Haven, CT. I grew up in Branford, just outside New Haven. So I’m pretty familiar with the area. I spent Thursday night at my brother’s house and thought I’d take the train in to avoid parking fees and traffic. The nice thing is for a city of about 124k, there are decent mass transportation options (CT Transit bus, Dattco bus, Shoreline East commuter rail, Amtrak, and Metro-North). Heck, New Haven even has its own, albeit tiny, airport.
So I woke up this morning and went to the train station where I saw this cute sign warning of flooding. I was early so I had about a 15-20 minute wait for the Shoreline East train. However, about 10 minutes after the train should have come and gone, an announcement came saying that the train wasn’t coming and Amtrak would be making all the stops. Half an hour after the train was supposed to leave, Amtrak shows up. I make sure they’re going to stop at the State St. station when I get on. The conductor assured me they were. That was good. Approaching the station, however, they announced that Metro-North put them on a track not adjacent to the platform and they wouldn’t be stopping there. At least they never collected fares from us. I ended up at Union Station, making my walk to Yale more than double what it would’ve been. Luckily, today was absolutely beautiful. So that’s the mass transit horror story for the day, but it was worth it. The walk was nice and I wasn’t late.
Now, onto New Haven in general. Having grown up there, I have a certain affinity for New Haven. It’s a fine city that went through some rough times, but has pulled out of those. I can’t help but compare it to Providence. Unfortunately, there’s no comparison. Downtown New Haven is an urban delight. It’s very walkable, the development is very urban, it’s clean, and it’s super vibrant (though having Yale right downtown helps a bit with the vibrancy). I know Yale had a lot to do with this, but why isn’t Brown or RISD or Johnson & Wales or even Roger Williams and URI with their downtown campuses helping clean up downtown Providence? Why aren’t they helping in the development of downtown? Why isn’t Providence College cleaning up Elmhurst and Wanskuck? While Yale has a whole lot more resources than any of these RI colleges do on their own, together they could really move Providence in a positive direction. I mean, we have 5 colleges located fully within the city limits (URI and RWU are just satellite campuses, but counting those and CCRI, there are 8 colleges in Providence). New Haven has 4 (Yale, Southern CT State University, Albertus Magnus, and Gateway Community College).
New Haven has great signage for restaurants and shops. There are even pedestrian/driving signs telling you where the points of interest are. Street signs are abundant and even the “No Parking” signs are standing upright and are clearly visible and not faded. It’s amazing what all the little things add up to become. Downtown New Haven is not a whole lot bigger than downtown Providence. If you don’t count the Yale area (which would be like College Hill in Providence), then downtown is about the same size as downtown Providence (including the Jewelry District). Yet New Haven is clean and it feels safe all over downtown. The signs are inviting, the streets are lit at night. It feels like a much larger city, yet it has about 50,000 fewer people than Providence.
Being in the same class of cities, Providence should be looking to New Haven as a model of how to do things correctly. The new construction in the downtown area is all very urban. Granted, there’s that whole Long Wharf area that is not at all urban with Ikea’s massive parking lots, but downtown, and many of the other neighborhoods are very urban. The biggest issue in downtown New Haven is the massive parking lot that was once the New Haven Coliseum (aka Veterans Memorial Coliseum), but that would be considered business as usual in Providence.