The New Haven Register covers a presentation that Mr. Joe Taylor gave last week to the New Haven Museum, entitled "Lost New Haven." Click here for a brief slideshow of Mr. Taylor's photographic collection, showing vignettes of what Downtown New Haven used to look like (note: some of these links may expire).Perhaps no loss is as ironic as that of the Joseph Sheffield House, across from St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue, the home of two major city architects. It was originally the home of Ithiel Town, who designed Center Church and Trinity Church, both on the Green. It was expanded by his student, Henry Austin. The house was demolished in 1957 and now is the site of an aluminum-sided annex to the Dunham Laboratory...Elizabeth Neuse of Hamden said she believed those who built the highways knew they were paving over history. “They knew what the devastation was there. They cut the east side from the west side, so State Street was radically changed,” she said.Aside from all of the beautiful buildings (many of which, due in part to the tenacity of New Haven preservationists like Elizabeth Mills Brown, have survived in great condition), and a few neighborhoods that were paved over entirely for highways like Route 34, what is most revealing about older images of Downtown New Haven are the dramatic changes over time to the city's ancient street grid.Many of these historic photos show streets which were narrow, walkable, lined with trees and wide sidewalks, and packed with pedestrians and cyclists. Although thankfully New Haven is still regarded as one of the most walkable cities in America, those same streets are now much wider, paved with thousands of square meters of expensive asphalt, and carry 3-4 lanes of high-speed traffic that is extremely dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. Church Street, which runs in front of City Hall, is a prime example.Though arguably at least as significant, such changes are far less noticable than a demolished landmark or missing neighborhood, because as Jane Jacobs points out in her seminal work on American cities, "erosion of the city by automobiles" tends to happen very slowly, over time. A lane is added here, a sidewalk curb radius reduced there; speeds of 30mph rather than 25mph start to become acceptable (despite the fact each additional mile per hour of speed within that range nearly doubles the chance of a pedestrian fatality); parking spaces are added in place of a crosswalk, sidewalks neglected, curb cuts added; traffic lights re-timed to maximize automobile flow rather than the efficiency of the bus system, a no RTOR sign goes missing.Individually, these changes can be barely noticable. For example, Chapel Street between Orange and State was widened by six feet after the Shartenberg building was knocked down in the 1960s. The work associated with New Haven's 35-story 360 State development and its $5,000 per month apartments won't include the rebuilding of the street back to its original pedestrian-friendly configuration. That extra six feet of road to cross on foot might not seem much to an able bodied person, but it could easy cost someone's life. Incrementally, these small acts of erosion serve to discourage walking, bicycling and transit use across the entire city.
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