Sunday, August 14, 2016

Culture: New Haven is Most Typical? Yikes

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The number geniuses on Nate Silver's staff at have come to the conclusion that New Haven, Connecticut has demographics most like the United States as a whole. While this may come as a relief to those who disagreed with the long-standing contention that "real America" was a rural town with no racial (or any other, save maybe age) diversity, it may be a bit scary for other reasons.

In a strange quirk of assignment, I was assigned a customer just outside of New Haven, Connecticut from mid-2011 to mid-2013, and traveled there quite frequently.  While my work trips there have become infrequent, because of friends in the region and the world-renowned restaurants on Wooster Street, I have actually been passing through New Haven fairly regularly for this entire century, through to present day.  While I do not have the familiarity of a local resident, I feel like I have a decent sense of the city.

New Haven certainly punches above its weight in education (Yale University being most prominent), in art and museums (the Peabody Museum of Natural History besides Yale-related museums), in Italian food (not just on the aforementioned Wooster Street), and even in soft drinks (Foxon Park beverages is located in nearby North Haven).  What it has come to be most known for, however, is its crime rate.  Take your pick of surveys, New Haven shows up with a violent crime rate in the highest 5-10% of the country (a fast web search showed this one with a highest 6% ranking).

As a visitor, this was not immediately obvious besides the presence of the large police station between the main train station and downtown, but the reality hit home once when I was trying to get to New Haven on a service call in September 2012.  My flight to New Haven's diminutive Tweed Airport had been canceled, and the only way I was going to get there was to take a flight to Hartford, Connecticut and drive.  (Canceled flights at Tweed are a common occurrence, to the point that I would eventually take to flying or taking a bus to New York City and taking the train or driving from there.)

On the replacement flight to Hartford, I happened to be seated next to a law student from Yale University.  A physically small woman of Latina descent from the central valley of California, she was even more upset with the situation than I was and we had a running conversation that ventured into living in New Haven.  She made it very clear that as a short, minority female, she did not feel safe walking around downtown New Haven after dark--and this is someone who described confidently walking around parts of Fresno and Los Angeles that would give me pause.  She was strongly looking forward to graduation and vowed that she was unlikely to ever to return to New Haven afterward because of the safety factor.

Considering that one of the purposes of looking at the demographics was to discredit the conservative rhetoric about "real America," holding up New Haven as the actual standard seems to play right into other aspects of their argument.  One can just imagine the current Republican presidential nominee go off about "if the country is turning in to New Haven, just think of how unsafe it is going to be."   Never mind that it would be a specious correlation--this whole conversation started because of an investigation into a statistically-invalid contention about what constituted "average" or "real" America.

Of course, my mind also went somewhere else in contemplating New Haven as "real America."  Does this mean the rest of the nation is going to get better pizza?

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