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City To Celebrate 350th With An Eye Toward Solving Problems

April 19, 1988

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ This city on the upswing is using its 350th birthday to celebrate its successes and find new ways to deal with the urban ills that provide a constant reminder of its failings.

But not everyone believes there is reason to celebrate.

Critics point to the grim statistics that often dominate descriptions of New Haven: a high poverty rate that makes it one of the nation’s poorest cities; blighted neighborhoods; the large number of drug-related AIDS cases.

But the organizers of ″New Haven 350″ say that despite the problems, a celebration is in order for this self-proclaimed cultural capital of Connecticut, which has enjoyed a multimillion-dollar revitalization in recent years and is home to Yale University.

″We feel the city has turned the corner and is moving in a very positive direction,″ said Rob Schwartz, a Yale-New Haven Hospital official who is one of the co-chairmen of the birthday celebration.

The people of New Haven ″have reason to be proud of what we have achieved to date,″ said Schwartz.

Three major events are scheduled to celebrate the birthday: a city fair June 4 and 5, a giant fireworks show July 4, and series of town meetings sometime this fall.

While the first two events are intended to showcase the city’s achievements and demonstrate its worthiness as a tourist attraction, the town meetings will be used to mobilize the entire community for problem-solving.

Yale and other major institutions and businesses are helping to fund the events. This Sunday, Mayor Biagio DiLieto and the dean of Yale’s drama school will narrate a history of the city during a concert that also will mark the first public performance of a score composed in honor of New Haven’s birthday by a Yale professor.

″I recognize, of course, some people might question the need for a celebration given the many serious human and social problems we have,″ DiLieto said in a recent interview. ″But I believe a birthday celebration is uplifting to the spirt of the people.″

Only those who have witnessed the changes over the last decade in this city of 126,000 people can appreciate the amount of progress that has been made, said DiLieto.

The downtown has undergone a transformation that amounts to nothing less than a renaissance, according to the mayor.

And the work continues.

In addition to new shops, officials say more than 1 million square feet of office space is under construction or proposed for the next five years as developers gamble the resurgence will continue and new companies will be lured to the Long Island Sound port founded by the Puritans in 1638.

But critics say much of what the city has done is merely cosmetic, and that the main beneficiaries of the downtown redevelopment have been developers, not the people who make New Haven, according to the 1980 census, the seventh poorest city in the nation.

″They are fixing up the downtown but they are doing nothing in the black community,″ said Haywood Hooks Jr., a research chemist who is president of the Greater New Haven chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

″Unfortunately, I don’t think it is time for blacks to celebrate,″ he said. Blacks comprise more than 30 percent of the population.

DiLieto, who has been in office since 1980, said his administration has demonstrated a commitment to the neighborhoods as well as the downtown. The city has created more than 3,000 housing units for mostly low- and middle- income people and has provided loans and grants, as well as accompanying public improvements, for property owners who wish to make their own improvements, he said.

Karl Hilgert, executive director of Christian Community Action, a provider of emergency services and advocate for the poor and homeless, said the administration ″clearly has made efforts″ to help the disadvantaged but that ″the concern for economic development needs to be geared more to jobs that get people above the poverty level.″

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