Like any urban area, New Haven, Connecticut, has its share of challenges. Unlike some, however, this city tends to tackle its issues head-on, with an inspiring creativity and determination, as well as with success.
Twice in the past (both in 1998 and 2003), New Haven has won the All-America City Award, and it has just been named a finalist in that competition again. The National Civic League offers the award annually to recognize “communities for collaboration, inclusiveness, and successful innovation.” The League’s president, Gloria Rubio-Cortes, calls the award “the ‘Oscar’ for communities of all sizes,” and says it “exemplifies extensive civic engagement.” From all appearances, New Haven deserves to be in the running.
Arguably, the city’s most valuable resources are its people. Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., seems to recognize this, and communicates regularly and openly with residents on the city’s website. His regular press releases keep all New Haven residents apprised of the city’s challenges and triumphs, and address such topics as road repairs, burglary arrests, youth vocational programs, teen pregnancy prevention, and, naturally, a celebratory note about the award nomination. Not only does Mayor DeStefano keep his initiatives public, but he invites communication from the public. His email address is available on the city website, and a program called “Web 311” has been set up so that people can address community concerns, complaints, and suggestions directly to the appropriate city office. Following the mayor’s lead, other city officials have made themselves accessible to all New Haven residents, even giving out contact information so that they can be reached out of the office.
When competing for the All-America City title this June, New Haven will highlight some of its most creative communityinitiatives in order to win it again. One such initiative is the Elm City Resident Card Program, which provides identity cards for all New Haven residents, irrespective of age or immigration status. This card, a tremendous asset in such a demographically varied community, facilitates public safety and opens up access to municipal areas and services.
Community accessibility is a priority for New Haven in other ways, too, and has garnered other positive attention for the city. In late 2007, New Haven was namedas a finalist for the Accessible America Awards. The city’s Disability Services Department is active in making the city widely accessible to all its residents, and provides on-line resource books and housing links for people with disabilities.