Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walkable Westville: What Makes a Neighborhood Great

Bennett Lovett-Graff writes into the New Haven Review to describe the things that make his home of Westville (pictured here, in a photo from a 2008 cover piece in the NYTimes Real Estate Magazine) such a great neighborhood for walking, and living:

"I grew up on Brooklyn and attended all my life the public schools to which I walked nearly every day of the thirteen years I had to go. At the age of 17, I left my family home and never came back.

This is not the same as saying that I didn't return to New York or even Brooklyn. I did. But I didn't return "home" in that most traditional of senses: taking up residence, as my brother did till age 35, in my parents' five-bedroom home on Glenwood Road.

When I left New York for the last time after a two-year stint as an editor to return to New Haven (yes, I lived here twice), my wife and I were not only overjoyed, we even returned to the neighborhood in which we had rented the first time around: that part of Westville between Whalley & Derby on the north and south respectively; and Yale Avenue and Forest Road as far as east and west go. We have had no regrets since in the last 10 years that we have resided here, and we both chalk that up not to New Haven itself, but the neighborhood in which we reside.

I could write electronic ream after ream on the wonderfulness of this neighborhood. My children walk two blocks to school (Edgewood School); my wife walks two blocks to work (Mitchell Library); we walk two blocks to synagogue (Beth-El Keser Israel); we have farmer's market directly across the street in the summers; access to tennis courts in Edgewood Park (across the street) and Yale fields (three blocks) respectively; sledding at the Yale golf course in the winter five blocks away we can walk less than a block to five art galleries, four bars, five restaurants.

It's the neighborhood thus that has made New Haven home for us (and our children) and not "New Haven" itself. The spatial proximity of creature comforts, leisure activities, the necessities of food and culture have created a latitude and lassitude in time: it moves more slowly, more relaxedly, more satisfactorily, with less alienating effects as I wave at friends going north along my block to synagogue or walking their children south along it to school or heading in either direction with dogs in tow or on bikes or in jogging suits.

Were I to leave New Haven, what I would miss is not its individual places or events but entire gestalt of a community created in a small corner of the city."

As reported recently in the New Haven Independent, neighbors are working on numerous Complete Streets submissions to make this neighborhood even better. If you live in Westville and want to get involved in making your streets even more able to foster a sense of community and local pride, please contact the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) or your local Alderperson.

Outside the historic core, not all of Westville is so walkable. Phil Langdon writes in the New Urban News about how Whalley Avenue, a main thoroughfare through the area, is an example of the Connecticut Department of Transportation's failure to address traffic safety issues. After an 11 year old was killed in a hit and run, the City of New Haven actually approved ConnDOT's widening of the road from two lanes to four lanes, which will make speeds even higher.

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