Less than two weeks after flames blighted the upper State Street neighborhood, 15 local volunteers were out planting trees just feet from the damage.
The volunteers connected through Community Greenspace, a program run by Yale’s Urban Resources Initiative (URI).
This summer the Upper State Street Greenspace group—one of 49 throughout the city—is taking direction from Jen Baldwin, 27 (at far left in above photo), a recent Yale School of Forestry graduate and current URI intern. She coordinated with local residents and business owners to design “green” projects for the notoriously gray and shabby area around the former Star Supply building.
The task Thursday evening was to plant three trees on Mill River Street, just across from the Star Supply building. After Community Greenspace Manager Chris Ozyck came by with a diamond saw to break open three plots on the edge of the sidewalk, Baldwin’s volunteers got to work removing the jagged concrete slabs, digging into the exposed earth, placing the new October Glory maples and packing them in with compost soil.
The new trees were a particularly welcome sight to Mike Segal. He’s a mechanic at Maximum Automotive LLC, a repair shop that he helped open last year across from the current Greenspace project site. After Segal and his colleagues acquired their current building on State Street, they spent months replacing the windows, fixing the woodwork, redoing the plumbing and giving the place a new paint job.
Then, two Sundays ago, Segal got a call at 2 a.m. from a man who lives next to the repair shop: The Maximum Automotive tow truck, kept outside in the parking lot, was up in flames. (One of the other buildings on Mill River Street was also hit that night in an apparent arson.) The blaze ruined the tow truck and damaged five nearby cars.
Weeks before the blaze, Baldwin had gotten Segal’s blessing to plant some trees on the State Street corner of the repair shop’s property. That project will take place next Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at 1031 State St. Segal plans to help with the plantings on his home turf; he was also out this week on Mill River Street.
“I’m digging holes, I’m hammering concrete,” Segal explained. “Why? ‘Cause I’m a nice guy. Plus, it can only make my place look nicer.”
Baldwin was pleased to hand off care of the trees to Segal and other locals who have a stake in keeping the area greener than in the past.
“We’re not going to plant stuff and leave,” Baldwin promised. “We want to people to invest in this project and be stewards of the area.”
Towards the end of the evening’s work, Baldwin called out, “Can I send someone to get water?” A moment later, she clarified that the water would be for the trees—not for the tired, dusty volunteers.
But a few minutes later, when the trees were all watered and the tools all packed, Baldwin’s voice rose up again: “Anyone who wants a beer, we’re going around to the other side of the building.” Surrounded by trees and plants a block away from the work site, the Greenspace volunteers made a toast to their three new contributions.