The construction cranes in the South End and the new apartment buildings downtown are testaments to the $6 billion of investment in Stamford. The neighborhood redevelopment project that started in 2008 with Building and Land Technology (BLT) has grown into a city-wide real estate construction boom. Many residents in Stamford are skeptical about this growth, fearing an increase in traffic and the displacement of low-income residents. While their concerns can be justified by previous development efforts, Stamford has reinvented itself. The current development rush is here to stay, and it is necessary to ensure Stamford’s economic future. However, an informed and transparent development process is necessary to benefit all of Stamford’s residents.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Fairfield County benefited from large corporations moving their headquarters out of New York City and into the suburbs. Stamford responded with an urban renewal phase that saw the construction of most of Stamford’s current office space and the arrival of companies like UBS that characterize Stamford’s corporate portfolio. Today’s exodus out of New York City consists not of companies but of millennials looking for more affordable housing opportunities and short commutes to work. Stamford is the only city in Connecticut responding to the housing demand of millennials who want to work, live and play in urban areas close to transportation hubs.
The Harbor Point development in Stamford’s South End aims to attract precisely this demographic by building housing units within walking distance of Stamford’s transportation center. Similarly, the housing developments downtown target young people who rely on public transportation services like Metro-North. The developments are creating mixed-use residential and commercial spaces. Earlier this month, construction began on a new office building with direct platform access to Metro-North. Transit-oriented development is the new norm in Stamford, which means that new residents and commuters will not be a significant amount of cars on the road.
The issue of gentrification has spurred debate over the seemingly growing footprint of BLT in the South End neighborhood. The original size of the Harbor Point development was approved by the city in 2007, but BLT has purchased parcels beyond their original proposal. Other areas being developed in the city are also seeing a growing number of luxury apartments that are driving up property values and driving out low-income residents. According to Robin King, Director of Knowledge Capture and Collaboration at the World Resources Institute in Washington, “the rising property values and change in culture of a neighborhood is some of what you want, but displacement of residents and small scale local businesses is the real problem.”
Efforts to stall the effects of gentrification have been met with success in Stamford. The city requires developers to include affordable housing units in each new apartment complex, which creates a diverse culture and helps to preserve the native population of a neighborhood. Some developers pay a fee instead that is used to fund affordable housing projects or maintain existing ones, as in the case of the St. John Towers downtown. There are independent projects such as Charter Oaks Communities that have expanded affordable housing all over the city and counterbalanced the displacement effects of gentrification.
Besides filling up new housing units, attracting young people is vital to the economic future of Stamford and the entire state of Connecticut. By being in the de facto economic and cultural jurisdiction of New York City and Boston, Connecticut has not been able to produce a large metropolis. Cities are key drivers of economic growth, and as the U.S. population continues to age, cities will compete for young people. Connecticut therefore needs a strong urban center that attracts young people. Stamford is the most qualified city to become Connecticut’s first cosmopolitan center.
In addition to the construction of urban housing, Stamford is investing in its road infrastructure, transportation center and urban landscape. Mill River Park, an urban park downtown, was recently selected as one of the “Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association. Innovate Stamford, a nonprofit organization, is working to increase Stamford’s entrepreneurial spirit through events like “Stamford Innovation Week.” Stamford is also one of only four places in Connecticut classified as innovation hubs. Other projects in the city include the expansion of pedestrian walkways, better signage, the construction of bike lanes and even the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
The overwhelming presence of cranes and construction trucks all over the city are temporary nuisances, but the housing units, businesses and office space they leave behind are assets that will last for decades to come. As Stamford moves into the 21st century with a renewed commitment to urbanization, the input of the local community will help the “city that works” become a world-class city that works for everyone.
Michael Hernandez is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.