Begun in 1968, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum was the crown jewel in the urban renewal of New Haven, Ct., a 12,000 seat anchor to a rejuvenated downtown. Forty years later, even after the hopeful master planning of urban renewal has long since been proven flawed, the Coliseum remained, abandoned; a rusting symbol of a failed era in American politics. It remained, that is, until Saturday, when a controlled demolition sent the structure crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust.
With hindsight, it’s sometimes difficult to understand why the designers of 1960s New Haven did what they did, especially given the range of power they wielded at the time. During the urban renewal era, no city received more money per capita than New Haven, and Mayor Richard Lee spent it on wild schemes: the Oak Street Connector, a highway to nowhere that gutted the residential core of the downtown, the Chapel Square Mall, one of the most poorly designed malls ever to be built, and the New Haven Coliseum, an ambitious structure with a parking garage on the roof of the stadium. All failed, and the city collapsed in the late 1980s before a rising economy, and a new relationship with Yale University, led the city back from the brink.
The ideological framework of urban renewal, the force that built the stadium, is thankfully dead, buried by failures, killed by its own hubris. The endless supply of government money and local power exposed Modernism’s own flaws, most notably its intense belief that architecture, mega-projects, and automobiles could construct a glorious and efficient future for a blue-collar city without any jobs. Within their own strict style, the Modernist planners of the 1960s could not possibly accept any other solutions besides their own. In the end, New Haven paid the price for being an architectural lab rat, one it is slowly buying back one demolition at a time.