Obsolescence or Renewal: New Haven Confronts De-Industrialization at Long Wharf

By Britton Rogers

The Long Wharf Industrial Park was an attempt by urban planners to address the changing form of industry. Along with politicians, they diagnosed the growing economic necessity for the City of New Haven to remain relevant for manufacturers. One of several redevelopment projects in the city’s urban redevelopment program that began in the 1950s, the Long Wharf project was unique to New Haven in that it was the only project created on new land, for the purpose of the renewal of industry. Its genesis is in the physical and functional relationship to the Connecticut Turnpike, which enclosed a marshland that was filled to create the district known as Long Wharf. The form and use of the newly created land followed a specific spatial paradigm: the industrial park, which had its origins in nineteenth century industrial cities and became a dominant form of land use across the country. Composed largely of unremarkable one-story factories and warehouses the district contained one monument by Marcel Breuer for the Armstrong Rubber Company; the one building in the district that has been vacant almost as long as it was occupied.

Challenged by obsolescence, aging industrial cities bore the brunt of decline of the urban center as manufacturing underwent dramatic changes of economy, technology, and geography. Dispersal of manufacturing, well underway by the time urban renewal projects were on planners’ drawing boards, was the problem that Long Wharf was planned to solve. This analysis of one solution to this urban problem will help to explain industrial development in the twentieth century American landscape. An atypical example of renewal as response to industrial decline, Long Wharf has been judged a success for accomplishing its goal: to keep industrial concerns in New Haven. Judged on the quality of the place, and the efficiency of land use, however, it is a failure of urban development.