Molly Boyle

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Yale University rises out of downtown New Haven, Connecticut, many of its buildings an identifiable symbol of the centuries-old city. The Gothic spires – and thousands of Yale students – occupy over a third of the original downtown dating from the colonial era, known as the “Nine Squares” in honor of the nine large blocks which made up New Haven in the seventeenth century. The Nine Squares have been hailed as a triumph of colonial planning; scholars have praised their “neat precision” as a “rarity” when compared with some of the more irregular New England settlements with winding roads and confusing street patterns, like Boston,Cambridge, or Salem. New Haven was the very first town in the American colonies to be planned according to a strict and square grid system, possibly later emulated by William Penn in his plan for Philadelphia. Where the irregular road patterns of many cities have been criticized, New Haven’s Nine Squares, in contrast, have been revered. New Haveners take great pride in the plan; city historian Elizabeth Mills Brown has stated that the Nine Squares “plan proved a good one . . . . It has long been cherished by its own citizens.” Most recently, the Nine Squares have been designated a National Historic Planning Landmark by the American Institute of Certified Planners. But this praise and admiration is not deserved.