Medium Town


Over at Andrew's place, Jamie Kirchick flags something I meant to link to but let slip my mind - Mark Oppenheimer's New Haven Review of Books, a collection of essays by writers who call the Elm City home (as I did, throughout my childhood). The collection includes Oppenheimer's own ode to the Springfield, Massachusetts of his youth, the New Haven of his adulthood, and other such medium cities - the places, in other words, that aren't New York, Washington or Boston, but aren't the suburbs or the deep country either. His affection for New Haven mirrors my own, though I wonder if our shared hometown isn't a special case among medium cities, given the presence of Yale. Having a great university in a small downtown, especially so close to Manhattan, enables New Haven to offer the charms of small-city life with some of the benefits of bigger-city living, and it's enabled the Elm City to survive a disastrous period of urban "renewal," sustain itself through the 1970s and 1980s - an era that tore the heart out of places like Springfield (among many others) - and then renew and reinvent itself over the last ten years.

My fear for New Haven (whose virtues I've defended for years against skeptics and snobs from the megacities) is that this recent renewal will go too far, in some sense - that the slow but unstoppable growth of Yale, and the expansion of New York's commuting population up the Connecticut coastline, will make it more and more like a miniature version of D.C. or New York, an upper-middle class town with a ghetto thrown in, rather than the working and middle-class area where I grew up. But of course this sort of "problem" is a luxury the Springfields of the world would kill to face.

Photo by Flickr user Andrew D. Miller used under a Creative Commons license.