A walk down Howe and along Howard takes you from downtown to down-to-the-sea-in-ships. It brings you past the old YMCA, wellness centers, the walls outside the highway and ultimately to the waterfront. This is one of those walks that connects numerous aspects of our delightfully diverse city. There’s an irony to that, in that the end of Howard and the beginning of Howe converge at Route 34, one of those roads where people aren’t thinking about taking a pedestrian view of the city, or about hanging about long in New Haven at all. But if you’re on foot, you barely notice that infamous division.
There’s a mythic quality to how these streets encompass so many phases of life and civilization. Babies are born at Yale-New Haven Hospital. They may be educated at any of the many schools within a few blocks of Howe or Howard, from Roberto Clemente to Betsy Ross Middle School to the Sound School, not to mention the Yale School of Medicine adjacent to the hospital. They duck back into the hospitals and nearby doctors’ offices and perhaps the new Smilow Cancer Center throughout their lives, for treatments that keep them ticking.
Along Howard there are monuments to fallen warriors (the statue in the park at Howard and Sixth Street is dedicated to Connecticut’s predominantly Irish Ninth Regiment) and to peacemakers (another name for North Frontage Road is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and there’s a lovely Hill community mural on Minor Avenue off Howard which reads “We Sing for Peace!”). Community takes various forms, from multi-family houses to support groups at the hospitals to the monthly “Free 2 Spit” spoken-word gatherings at the New Haven Peoples Center at 37 Howe Street. The Peoples Center, which was founded in 1937 during the Great Depression, is listed as a site on the Connecticut African American Freedom Trail and labels itself proudly as “a Labor & Community Center for Educational, Social and Cultural Activities.”
Those who live and work along this thriving section of New Haven can also eat well. Howe Street extends from Whalley Avenue to South Frontage Street, and between Whalley and Chapel alone it houses three separate Indian restaurants as well as the culinary landmarks Miya’s and Mamoun’s. Pizza places and other convenient eateries are spread evenly down Howe and Howard. (Who can resist stopping into a place called Wilson’s Go Go Food Mart, or its neighbor Pizza Haven?) When, a couple of miles away on the same stretch of street you hit the water’s edge, there’s Sage American Grill & Oyster Bar, with its steaks and seafood, live jazz music and spectacular view of the Sound.
Spanning downtown to waterfront, houses to hospitals, busy streets to pocket parks, Howe/Howard comes off as quite quirky. It’s not one of those old settled parts of town but has fitted itself to whatever industry may have dominated a given century, from farming to seafaring to railroads to factories to commuting.
Adding to its shapeshifting nature, this is the area where New Haven’s fabled city-planning grid begins to unravel. York and Park streets, which lie parallel to Howe down at the Whalley end, run practically perpendicular to Howard, which twists off with a mind of its own just past the Frontages. There are plenty of trees planted along Howard, which are joined by a playful group of tree-shaped public artworks at the corner of Howard and Congress, amid the Yale Medical buildings. Strolling down the quiet residential streets of Howard as it passes Spring and Rosette streets, you’re only vaguely aware that there are train tracks and highways a stone’s throw away.
Bayview Park, that tranquil out-of-the-way spot in City Point where the aforementioned Ninth Regiment statue stands, is another culture shock. The Ninth Regiment soldiers were the first Union troops to capture Confederate colors during the Civil War (in Mississippi in April, 1862) and provided critical defenses of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Now the regiment symbolically protects a wall which separates the area from a sheer drop to Interstate 95 on the Connecticut Turnpike.
Appreciating this part of the city as a pleasant, straightforward land-to-water walk down Howe Street and Howard Avenue gives you a different view of the city than you get when it’s packaged as separate regions such as The Hill, Kimberly Square, City Point. When discussed in the news and in mayoral debates and city planning sessions, these areas seem distinct and distant, separated by class and commerce and commuter routes and cuisine. But taken as an hour-long stroll, the areas blend sweetly and smoothly, showing not how divided the city can be but how unified.
Birth, school, work, death. Evolution. Multi-culturalism. Transit, from cars to trains to ambulances to boats. Settled, colorfully painted multi-generational homesteads. You’ll find it all in one disarmingly genteel odyssey of New Haven along Howard Avenue. And Howe!
Written and photographed (with the exception of #4) by Christopher Arnott.