Conn College Launches Website of Urban Renewal History in New London

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NEW LONDON — Connecticut College launched a visually rich new web site Tuesday that pulls together extensive research about urban renewal in New London from 1941 to 1975.

“We applied [for a grant] with this project to study the history of urban renewal in New London because it hasn’t really been done before. This is really the first history written about it and it takes the form of this public history digital publication,” said Anna Vallye, assistant professor of Art History and Architectural Studies, who led the project that included three faculty, four staff and 43 students from 2019 to 2020. 

The college also partnered with New London Landmarks, which had begun to look at the urban renewal period in New London and led a walking tour of a neighborhood affected by the project several months before Connecticut College began its work, said Vallye.

“We wanted to benefit their public programming with our research. They have great resources in their archives related to it so they gave us access,” said Vallye. 

The college was one of 25 institutions that received an inaugural grant as part of Humanities Research for the Public Good from the Council of Independent Colleges, an initiative sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that is focused on connecting small and medium-sized colleges with their communities. 

Vallye taught two classes in which students conducted research on urban renewal topics in New London that was contributed to the site. Students in a graphic design course at the college also created charts and visuals for the site using research data. 

Tabs on the site provide timelines detailing the chronology of the changes in New London from 1941 to 1975. The “redevelopment” tab delineates the key actions of the New London City Council and the New London Housing Authority as well as two redevelopment agencies and other groups. The “deconstruction/reconstruction” timeline follows the demolition and construction of buildings, the plans of developers, and historic preservation efforts. Other tabs include “bridges and roads,” which details the construction of I-95 and the two spans of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and “community,” which includes demographic studies, public opinion toward the projects and plans, and the response of civic organizations. 

The site also traces the Winthrop Urban Renewal Project that began in 1962 and resulted in the demolition of nearly 690 homes in the Shaw’s Cove section of New London, which was a minority neighborhood. 

Vallye said the whole point of urban renewal was to elevate cities economically by increasing their tax base but in researching the statistics from 1960 to 1980 in New London there was little improvement. 

“Basically you don’t really see that much impact at least [by what is] traceable through census data. New London is always doing just a little bit worse than Connecticut averages, whether you’re looking at people living below the poverty level, employment statistics or median income,” she said. 

The project continues to seek input from current or former New London residents who are willing to share their stories from the urban renewal period. 

The site address is: https://arcg.is/rua1s. To contact the Vallye about the project, send email to: mappingurbanrenewal@conncoll.edu. The zoom launch video will be available on Connecticut College YouTube channel in a few days. 

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