Saturday, July 30, 2011

Running on location: New Haven, Connecticut

My tour guide walked me around New Haven.  He showed me where I could and couldn't go.  I paid close attention.  I could walk on this side of the street, but not on the other.  I could walk on this street, but not pass the gas station and certainly not the Popeye's Chicken.  This might look like a nice park, but it was frequented by drug dealers.  As long as I stayed within the "safe zone" and walked with a group in the evenings, I would be fine.  This is where my family and I would live, work, play and run for the next two weeks. 

Within Yale University lies a residential college enclosed by heavy gates that require a pass card at entry and a push of a button at exit.  From those gates, I can safely venture one block east, three blocks west, one block north and two and a half blocks south.  If I strayed from that zone, except for a long stretch along a residential street, I might be putting myself in danger.  Violent crimes are three times the national average here in New Haven.  Seven people were shot in this city in a forty-eight hour span of time last May.  Growing up and living in the suburbs of Oregon, this is something I have never experienced before.  I was reminded that in parts of our country, even in 2011, a color line exists.  Several tall public housing buildings, the projects stand in a very dangerous parts of the city, just blocks from the prestigious Yale University.  I learned that New Haven and Yale have had a cantankerous relationship for decades.  Divisions and conflicts based on race, class and ethnicity are unfortunately alive and well in this city of great disparity. 

We arrived during a heat wave. New Haven's mercury rose enough to break record highs.  The humidity was oppressive.  From the time I woke up, to the time I went to bed, a layer of sweat coated my skin.  Heat, humidity and high crime rate in a new city aren't factors that lure me out for runs.  The gyms seemed like a better option for the next couple weeks.  The air conditioned nine-floored Yale fitness center gave me a safe, cool place to pump iron, run, cycle, row, swim, and hell, if I wanted to fence, do gymnastics and play squash!

I hopped on a dreadmill with the hopes for making up for all the missed runs I'd accrued since being away from home.  Within five minutes, I was bored stiff.  Honestly, how do be people endure treadmill runs?  I talked myself into sticking it out for a half hour or three miles, whichever came first.  At the rate at which the mileage and minutes were passing, this run was going to take forever!  I cranked up the speed to get it over with.  Then I played with the incline and speed every four minutes or so, to ward off boredom.  Much to my surprise, I managed to log four and a half miles that day.  I went back the next day but could only tolerate three miles.  My heart just wasn't into it.  It was high time to take my running outdoors.

Temperatures and humidity had come down to comfortable levels, but I had other excuses not to run.  I was too busy working.  I was too busy parenting.  I didn't have my running mommas with whom to share the run.  My foot hurt.  I was too full.  I was hungry.  I didn't want to miss breakfast, lunch or dinner in the dining hall.  It was my husband's time to run.  My kids needed me.  I was in a new, unfamiliar, dangerous city.  I always get lost.  Wait a minute!  I have a race in four weeks! Not any race either, it was Hood to Coast!  I had a whole relay team that I couldn't let down.  I NEEDED to train! 

My husband, navigator and scout had run around New Haven a few times and assured me that there were a few safe options.  The first was to run a two mile rectangle around the safe zone.  The second was to run an out and back along a residential road.  I opted for running the perimeter.  It didn't go well.  There were too many traffic lights and cars that messed up my pace and rhythm.  At one point, I veered off course and wound up on the unsafe side of a safe street.  Heart pounding, I dodged traffic to get back to the other side of the street as quickly as I could.  Within a matter of seconds I had found myself the only white person on that side of the street.  The gazes I received weren't friendly. 

The next morning I tried the out and back option.  I would run out of my building, past my favorite bagel shop and down a street to a New Haven landmark called East Rock.  It was just a four mile route.  Orange Street is a residential area sprinkled with attorney and dentists offices, gourmet grocery stories, quaint cafes and eateries and a trendy wine/liquor store.  It was hard to believe that I was still in New Haven which had such a reputation for crime.  I was relieved to discover that it didn't matter which side of the street I ran on.  This was the first time I had spotted parents pushing strollers, kids riding bikes and chatting mommas sporting babies in packs.  I felt safe and was enjoying myself.

Beautiful big houses along this street.
Couldn't resist taking a picture of Willow Street with East Rock backdrop
Gourmet markets to support this neighborhood's affluent residents
So many places of worship. Here's Grace Chapel
Little cafe with outdoor seating
I love the houses on this street
Office space for rent
Before I knew it I had made to East Rock Park.  It is a rather interesting geologic landmark in New Haven.  It is a long wall of a rock that stretches 322 feet into the sky.  It seems misplaced, but makes for an interesting view. I was pleased to discover a playground, picnic tables, barbeque pits and a canoe launch.  What captured my attention though was the river and the trails that flanked it.  Trails!  I couldn't wait to ask around, examine maps and send Steve out on a scouting expedition. 

Peace Park. Peaceful it was.
Mill River
East Rock

Trails to explore next time!
I had been out running around a half hour.  Time had passed so quickly out there this morning.  Much more so than on my treadmill runs.  It was time for my return trip back home.  It was a good run.  One that reminded me of why I love running so much.  You get to see things!  You get to interact with nature!  As if that's not reward enough, those feel-good hormones rush through your body!  I joined my family for lunch and we had a fabulous day exploring the fabulous Connecticut Children's Museum.  This is the dangerous city I had worried so much about?

As good as my run was, I couldn't shake my feelings around the divisions within this city and the longstanding turbulent relationship between Yale and the town of New Haven.  How I wish things were different for so many of the citizens here.  Inequity of resources, power and opportunity are to blame for the high crime rate here.  Everyone deserves a safe place to live and raise their families.  How hard would it be to provide all citizens with high quality education, opportunities for enrichment and recreation, access to health care and nutritious food?  My short stay at Yale has reminded me not to take these things for granted. With privilege comes socio-political responsibility.  What am I doing to bridge such divisions?  What am I doing to stand up for what is right, fair and just?  How can I be a better, more compassionate involved citizen in my own city?  To whom was I choosing to turn a blind eye?  I realized that I had unknowingly become apathetic.  It's time to for me to wake up and get to work! 


  1. In college, we never missed an opportunity to take visitors to the Kentucky Fried Chicken in one of the "bad" parts of Philadelphia, a few blocks from our house. This featured bullet proof glass between the customer and the cashier and a lazy-susan with the same on three sides. The worst part was I didn't even like KFC.

  2. It doesn't feel like the "fourth most dangerous city" because it is not:

    The consensus among the FBI, American Society of Criminologists, and all researchers is that these rankings are completely invalid. New Haven is quite typical, if not safer, than most American cities!

  3. Interesting...
    Thanks for sharing. What do you make of the data from these sources?

  4. Those articles were all based on the "rankings" that were published by the 24/7 Blog, which is a small advertising company based in the NYC suburbs. Their goal is simply to attract eyeballs to their stories, valid or not.

    Contrary to some of the media reports you may see, the 24/7 Blog rankings are not FBI rankings. In fact, the FBI (and several other prominent groups) has called them "invalid" and "bogus".

    Unfortunately, editors in our newsrooms don't have time to check their sources these days!

  5. Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you

    Dental Office West haven CT,

  6. Thanks for this honest post...I am African-American, and a resident of this city, and found your blog after googling places to run here. It is one thing to complain about the danger and feeling unsafe, and quite another to contemplate ways to change it. Very refreshing, thanks.