New Haven is the perfect size.
I moved to New Haven two years ago from Boston. Before then, I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. When I opened the doors of my first project in New Haven (a bicycle co-op), people got excited about what I was doing and within weeks I was introduced to an entire biome of energy and support. Strangers would show up and ask how they could help. Neighbors would randomly thank and congratulate. Friends would come down just to hang out. This enthusiastic support was a foreign feeling.
Very quickly I saw that everyone was a part of this energy. In New Haven, people are friends with their bartenders, they use their public space and hang out in parks, they commute to work without a car, they talk about the new restaurant that just popped up that week. They also volunteer to tutor elementary and middle school students, they start a group to create a safer path through an industrial park, they are a part of Big Brother Big Sister, they get a team together to fix bikes in the park on the weekends for free, they give a talk on the history of urban development in New Haven.
Everyone around me actively participates in New Haven.
When doing any kind of work, whether it is starting a company, volunteering at a local non-profit, or joining a pick-up sports league, it is human nature to want to be heard and valued.
In bigger cities like Boston or New York, it is harder to see your impact. So many people are doing so much work that the scale becomes vastly larger than any single individual. Your positive energy joins a symphony that, while spectacular, can be lost in the noise.
In small towns like the one I grew up in, your efforts often hit a ceiling. There are only so many people to affect and the scale is small. Many ideas can’t thrive with so few people. Instead of a symphony, you are often a soloist standing alone in your own echo chamber.
New Haven has a lot of other things going for it as well including its history, its proximity to NYC and Boston, an ivy league university, and a renewed excitement about city-living in the new generation. And it has many of things that contribute to its energy including racial and class tension. But its size, combined with all of these things, is what makes it different from its neighbors. New Haven’s size is what encourages it to be passionately engaged in bettering itself.
When you participate in the goings-on of any city, you create ripples. But in New Haven, you can actually watch those ripples radiate out. The city gets excited when you join a kickball team or volunteer with IRIS or start a pop-up ramen restaurant. Your impact is felt. You create a positive feedback loop. New Haven is big enough to have something for everyone and to support good ideas, yet small enough for you to be a champion, to be someone who is heard and valued. And I can’t think of anything more important for the health of a city than its citizens being heard and valued.