New Haven Board of Alder Leaders Inject Community Voice In Development Boom
New Haven Independent, June 25, 2019
By CCM Staff
A recent poll by the Hartford Courant and Sacred Heart University found that a majority of Connecticut’s residents find the state hard to live in, but that hasn’t stopped New Haven from attracting millennials by the droves and being named one of the nation’s 50 best small cities.
Tyisha Walker-Myers, president of the New Haven Board of Alders, and Richard Furlow, the board’s majority leader, came on this week’s episode of The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ “Municipal Voice” radio program on WNHH Radio to discuss what makes New Haven the city that it is.
One of the main topics of discussion was economic development, with dozens of projects all around the city.
“Everyone wants to be in New Haven,” Walker-Myers said. “Our diversity is what attracts people.” She cited the university and hospital as obvious draws for prospective residents. But both the board president and Furlow agreed that community is what keeps people here.
“A lot of millennials are looking for a place to get invested in,” she noted. Furlow said that “a lot of people don’t realize how affordable New Haven really is.” He asked people to think of prices of living in our nearest big cities, like New York and Boston.
Both were happy with the development, but that doesn’t mean that the Board of Alders rubber stamps every project that they see, they said.
“Our city is livable,” Furlow said. That doesn’t mean just putting up buildings everywhere. For him, it’s important to remember that this remains the Elm City, to retain that character that has been built up over the years.
He mentioned green space being important, while Walker-Myers noted that without good zoning “you can live in a neighborhood that looks totally different than when you first got there.”
And you have to find a balance between development, creating a walkable city, having available parking for those who need it, and good public transportation for others, they said.
Diversity of residents back to top
Furlow said that to walk from Westville to downtown in the rain is unfeasible — “You’ll be soaked!” — and that an improved bus system will make this a truly walkable city.
“We need to be sensitive to the type of people who live in the city,” Board President Walker-Myers said.
One of the ways they are doing that is by trying to increase the number of affordable units being built. As board president, Walker-Myers helped create a proposed permanent affordable housing commission in order to study and assure that people who live and work in the city have the opportunity to pay manageable rents.
Furlow quoted the board president, saying that the Board of Alders isn’t looking to give handouts, but looking to give a hand up. “It’s about empowerment,” he continued, “not giving people a free pass.”
The changes New Haven is seeing have been a long time in the making. Walker-Myers said that over the last couple of years, people have been paying attention to what’s going on in the city. That her constituents and all of New Haven’s residents are finding their voice. She said that when the “alders and community have a say, development works better.”
Those plans have to be more than just someone who wants to make a quick buck. Furlow noted that these projects will matter in 25 or 50 years.
For Furlow and Walker-Myers, their most important job is keeping their ear to the ground. “Being on the Board of Alders is about your compassion for people, and wanting to make change,” the board president said. She ended with: “If everyone put in the work, we’ll end up with a good product at the end.”