by Tony Santini
The New Haven County Chapter has chosen to take an active roll in opposing the proposed new mega-mall at Long Wharf. The project, if completed, will be a 1.2 million square foot building, plus two large parking garages on a 55-acre toxic waste dump situated at the intersection of I-91 and I-95, not a half a mile from several crowded residential districts. It will cost $500 million to build, $94 million of which will come from the taxpayers of New Haven and Connecticut, and the US Postal Service, which owns part of the site. It will be an "upscale" mall, meaning most people will probably not be able to buy much in it. It is expected to draw between 30,000 and 40,000 more cars to the interchange.
The Green Party has chosen to oppose the mall project because it is hindering us from building the just and sustainable society.
You might have heard the phrase "just and sustainable society" before. Political progressives and environmentalists have been using it for several years now to describe the future we are building. It is our ecotopia. It is a nation where love and generosity, beauty and diversity, are valued more than profits. It is a place where greed, avarice, and waste are all still sins. It is a society where the human economy flows with the cycles of nature, not subject to the boom and bust business cycle. It is a future where the word "community" meant what it did in the past– a group of people who care for each other bonded together in a particular place. It is a place where it is easier to get around on your own two feet than in a gasoline-powered car. The just and sustainable society respects and cares for its elders, it doesn't shut them away and make it difficult for them to get the medicine and care they need. It treats children as precious gifts, and not as a market segment. It ensures all people's basic needs are met before the playgrounds of the rich are built. It is a world of clean air, clean water, and clean soil, a city of gardens and parks and decent houses, a home where food is nutritious, fresh and pure. This is the just and sustainable society.
Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? Well, that's what we're building. Except something is standing in our way. A few things actually, but here I'm going to deal with just one. Money. Not money in general, but specifically the $94 million that we are chipping in for the Long Wharf Galleria. An indoor shopping mall is the exact opposite of the just and sustainable society. It is a place where no one lives. It is closed off from the blue sky and filled with artificially conditioned air. It is a place dependent on the private automobile for its continued viability. It is filled with chain stores that take money out of the community and send it back to the home office. It is a place where the profit motive rules. It is a place where no one is welcome who does not have money to spend. It is a place of throwaway goods and forgettable meals.
Compulsive shoppers and CEO's dream about malls, developers long to build them, and sweatshops are contracted to stock them. And the mayor and the governor and the legislature expect us to pay $94 million to help build another mall. Most people don't want money taken out of their pay to subsidize Macy's, or Nordstrom's, or the Gap. If you've been around New Haven for a while, you might remember 6 or 7 years back when there used to be a Macy's on Crown Street downtown. Macy's threatened to close the store, so the state promised to give them $2 million to stay open for another two years. After Macy's got the first installment of $800,000, they went ahead and closed the store anyway. Pulled out, just like that. These are the kind of people your tax money is going to help build a brand new store for. Every one of New Haven's state legislators voted to use tax money to fund this mall. They say that no matter what problems the mall may bring to New Haven: traffic, pollution, etc, it will bring jobs and tax revenue to the city. Not one of them wants to ask, jobs for whom? The chain stores will be promoting their own personnel to management positions – they aren't going to hire a stranger off the street to run the store for them. When they start building the mall there won't be time to train New Haven's unemployed to be masons and plumbers and electricians – it takes a long time to learn those skills. There's only a non-binding agreement that the developers will suggest to the stores to hire 35% of their employees from New Haven. And increased tax revenue? How, when the city will be paying back $50 million in debt with interest? That adds up to $84 million total. And how will overall tax revenues go up, when other retail properties will lose value when they have to compete with the mall? And how when the mall will increase the burden on sewage, fire, and police services?
On July 5th, the New Haven County chapter held a rally against the mall on the New Haven Green to attract the public to testify at the final public hearing the next evening. About 250 citizens, 4 TV stations, and several radio and newspaper reporters, turned out to hear speaker after speaker talk about the downside of the mall – toxic site, increased pollution, etc – and to hear some alternatives to it. We managed to inspire so many people to come to the public hearing, that the vast majority who spoke at it were against the mall. The final date for public comment was July 13th, now it's up to two state agencies to give their final approval to the project.
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves the mall might be horrible in many ways, but what are we going to do to bring about the just and sustainable society after we've killed the mall? One part of a just and sustainable society is a locally based economy using local resources for a local market. The city and state governments have no right to take local tax money and give it to non-local corporate interests. We need to promote local enterprises. For a fraction of the cost of a giant shopping mall, government can make loans to help local people to start their own businesses. At a local trade school you can train someone to be an electrician for about $12,000. Governments can restrict the size of retail buildings through zoning laws and restrict residential development in remote areas. Governments can discourage chain stores by progressively increasing taxes with the number of stores owned by one corporation. Governments can strictly enforce anti-trust regulations. Governments can increase the use of public transportation by spending money on trains and buses rather than expanding highways. Downtown shopping areas can be turned into car-free pedestrian zones. Bicycle traffic can be given its own lanes. We can start building the just and sustainable society by saying enough is enough to giant projects, which benefit the few, but overall make the world a worse place. This mall is the point at which we can turn things around. The point at which we draw the line and say to the powerful money interests, "you've had your day, now it's our turn."
Tony Santini is a Green Party candidate for the Connecticut General Assembly (92nd District Representative). He lives in New Haven.