Monday, April 7, 2014

Homeward Stay: Why I Love My Neighborhood of Westville in New Haven

Donald Brown, writing at New Haven Review, asked the following at the end of his post here:

So, a question to any long-standing or native New Haveners reading this: what do you consider to be definitive aspects of New Haven … the kinds of things one shouldn’t miss while living here? Or: what’s a change you’ve seen in your time here that had some effect on you?

How could I not answer about the neighborhood I've come to love as follows...

I grew up in Brooklyn. There I attended all my life 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, which 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 fewer alienating effects as I wave hello to 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--this restaurant or its much celebrated Festival of Arts and Ideas or remarkably Long Wharf Theatre--but the entire gestalt of the community that occupies its small corner of this small city.