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The Failure of Design in Downtown New Haven

Today, from Design New Haven, a tale of two shopping plazas. 

One,
anchored by a Shaw’s supermarket, is in the thriving heart of downtown
New Haven, a city that was just ranked in the top 25 "Best for Gen Y"
nationally. The other is a Target complex in the middle of an
industrial wasteland at the city’s edge. Which is more friendly to
human beings?

We’ll let Design New Haven’s editor, Mark Abraham, tell the counterintuitive story:

Shaws-Plaza-NewHaven_1.jpgShaw’s Plaza is in the heart of downtown New Haven, but connected to nothing.

The Shaw’s Plaza, built in the mid-1990s, is home to the only major
supermarket in Downtown New Haven, and attracts many local residents
and Yale students…

Despite
the
supermarket’s popularity and the incredibly high density of the
surrounding neighborhood (according to the Census, the Dwight
neighborhood just west of Downtown has a population density close to
those of many of the central boroughs of London, 50-60% higher than
that of Chicago or Downtown New Haven, and about 3X higher than that of
the East Rock neighborhood), there are no crosswalks or traffic calming
measures anywhere near the store. In addition to the lack of any
pedestrian plaza right at the store’s entrance, DNH readers regularly
observe families of all ages, even people in wheelchairs, trying to
cross Whalley Avenue near the Shaw’s plaza. Usually, they dart across
under great stress. To make things worse, vehicles regularly speed in
excess of 50MPH down the 4-lane, median-less highway…

In contrast… the Target Department Store in North Haven, Connecticut opened about five years ago
as part of a National Realty project, and is located in an industrial
zone near the city’s old landfill (known as "Mount Trashmore"). Other
than its location off of I-91, Target has no physical relationship with
any surrounding residential or commercial areas.

The store is the epitome of "dumb growth." But wait!

Look at the beautiful Dutch-inspired, textured, shared space plaza at the front of the store. Chicanes, vehicle bollards, traffic calming, medians, brightly-striped ladder crosswalks, and pedestrian walkways can be spotted throughout.

Those
who frequent this Target report feeling exceptionally comfortable and
safe walking to it. Families with children are regularly spotted
walking, skipping, or hobbling into the store’s entrance with ease. The
Starbucks located at the store’s entrance does quite well, with people
spilling out to enjoy their coffees in the nice weather. This despite
that the area often smells like industrial emissions or manure
processing, and has views of abandoned rail tracks and one of the
largest parking lots in New Haven County.

As
Abraham, points out, the contrast is illuminating in two ways. First,
it shows how much design principles have advanced in the last ten
years, and how they can make a difference in people’s experience of
space, even in a poorly placed development. Second, it raises this
question: "Why are residents living in sections of one of the densest
downtown areas in the United States — a very large proportion of whom
are unable to own or operate a vehicle — treated like second class
citizens?"

More from around the network: Transportation for America
reports on a study that shows Americans continued to use public transit
in record numbers during the first quarter of this year. City Parks Blog writes about the concept of "the humane metropolis." And Urban Review STL asks the timeless question, "Are developers evil?"