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In New Haven, Debating the Best Road Forward

The long-awaited Downtown Crossing project has the city buzzing, but some fear it's not making the most of its chance
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Courtesy City of New Haven

In the late 1950s, at the height of America's road construction craze, leaders of New Haven, Connecticut, wiped out an entire neighborhood to make way for a highway that would help save the city. The idea made sense at the time. Suburban flight had left the downtown area withering. By clearing a wide strip of land, New Haven could construct a long highway linking Interstate 95 to the state's Naugatuck Valley via the city center. Cars would follow this long welcome mat back downtown, and the city would thrive once more. The plan made New Haven a regional, if not national leader "in striking at the illnesses that plague all U.S. municipalities," wrote Time magazine in 1957. Some even took to calling it the Model City.

The great road never materialized as planned. Instead all the city could muster was a one-mile, limited-access highway known as the Route 34 Connector. For years the connector served as a continual reminder of the failed efforts of urban renewal. It had displaced some 800 families, severed the downtown district from a vital neighborhood, and, many felt, torn the fabric of the city beyond all repair. "It would appear that we love the road much more than we do places, certainly more than we love cities, so that our political powers always gather behind the highway network, and we are ready to destroy anything for it," Vincent Scully, a Yale professor and critic of the Route 34 Connector, wrote in 1967.