Public [Dis]use

Urban renewal, a strategy used by the government to clear cut entire neighborhoods to spur supposed economic growth, had its heyday in the 1950s and 60s when urban populations dwindled and cities chose to remake themselves through the wrecking ball and central planning.

One such project, New Haven, Conn., has been no stranger to this often gruesome and heart-breaking strategy.  In fact, New Haven can be seen as the epicenter of urban renewal, as twice the amount of money per capita was spent there on grandiose redevelopment plans than in any other city.  In the late 1960s in New Haven, urban renewal wiped out an entire neighborhood to make way for various projects, such as apartment towers and city plazas, claiming the projects would give residents a “decent home and suitable living environment.”[1]

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum, finished in 1972 and spanning 4.5 acres, was considered the ray of hope that would bring vast economic relief to the area, in the form of stores, shops and gas stations.[2]  Though many residents were forced out by eminent domain to make way for the new Coliseum, many in the community actually came to like the venue.[3]

Few could resist the legendary concerts of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks when they came through town, while hockey-crazed New Englanders appreciated the Coliseum’s three minor league hockey teams that skated through there over the years when the venue wasn’t hosting the Harlem Globetrotters or monster truck rallies. [4]

But, as it turns out, despite countless events over its 30-year life, big names weren’t enough to create that economic spark hoped for by the government.

“It never created any economic activity around it,” said New Haven’s mayor, John DeStefano, Jr.  “It didn’t even sustain a bar on the corner.”[5]

That reason alone prompted City officials to shut down the Coliseum.  A symbol of urban renewal, sold with such high expectations, was itself meeting the same fate as the properties that were destroyed to make way for it.  A product of government-planned urban “renewal” 30 years before, the City would continued the cycle of destruction to construction to destruction again, with no end in sight.

On January 20, 2007, the Coliseum was demolished as residents looked on.[6]  So far, the plans for the site include a college campus, a theater and a hotel[7], though there is no indication yet whether or not eminent domain will be used.  If the Coliseum experience is any indication, government planning may not be the best strategy for this area.

This is yet another example of a government-dictated renewal project that failed. Development would have been better left to the private market—as the Castle Coalition and the Institute for Justice advocate.

[1] Jonathan Finer, “Urban renewal’s final implosion,” The Washington Post, October 22, 2006.

[2] Priscilla Searles, “Thanks for the memories,” Business News Haven, August 22, 2005.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jonathan Finer, “Urban renewal’s final implosion,” The Washington Post, October 22, 2006.

[6] “New Haven Coliseum is gone,” WTNH Channel 9, Connecticut, January 20, 2007.

[7] Jonathan Finer, “Urban renewal’s final implosion,” The Washington Post, October 22, 2006.