Two buses pulled away from the steps of City Hall, carrying over 100 volunteers, gardeners, and scientists.
Their destination? Green spaces.
The group visited a number of newly verdant sites in Fair Haven and Wooster Square, ending at an urban oasis on Dover Beach. These previously empty lots, sidewalks, and parks are alive thanks to Community Greenspace, a project that supplies the materials, manpower, and knowhow to reclaim blighted areas of the city.
“We are full to the gills,” said Greenspace Associate Director Chris Ozyck as the bus doors closed. “We haven’t had this many in a while.”
The first stop was Lenzi Park, a square of grass dedicated to a fallen World War II soldier who was born across the street. Homeless people frequented the park for many years until a Greenspace team removed concrete and planted cherry trees there. Today, Frank’s Paint and Hardware Store across the street is primarily responsible for the park’s upkeep.
Greenspace gives clinical training for Yale School of Forestry students. They help Greenspace care for public parks, neighborhood sidewalks, and abandoned street corner lots. Many contain compacted soil with high levels of lead. Groups of neighbors apply directly to Greenspace, who help the neighbors plant trees or build small community parks.
The buses turned down Lloyd Street, passing a two community green spaces. The corner of Lloyd and Wolcott — the site of an infamous FBI drug-bust — now bursts with deep greens and blooming flowers. Nearby Esmeralda Park contains a small circle path overhung with young trees. The park has no gates — only a small archway. Today, 20 of the 63 Greenspace locations are parks like these.
Greenspace provides the necessary gardening tools, soil, and mulch for each project. The city and the Community Foundation for Greater New Havenfund much of the work. Greenspace is under the auspice of the Urban Resources Initiative, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the Yale School of Forestry.
Along the Quinnipiac River runs Quinnipiac River Park. Residents on both sides of the river united to plant pear trees and Norway maples in the compacted soil, which was polluted from years of being an industrial scrapyard. On Thursdays the park holds a farmers’ market.
The buses stopped down the street at Dover Beach Park, a brand new Greenspace project that stretches along the Quinnipiac River under Interstate 91. Work began on Dover Beach only last week, and took the combined efforts of the city, URI, the Livable City Initiative, and the state Department of Transportation to complete. Two streetlights were installed, brush and debris was cleared and hauled away, and the nearby guardrail was repaired.
“You can’t work on city land without permission from the city,” URI Director Colleen Murphy-Dunning said, calling the new park a “team effort.” Mayor Toni Harp, who spoke to the audience of volunteers and organizers, said the park was the result of a “public-private partnership.”
“This is community building at its best and I can’t wait for next year,” Harp said. Greenspace held a similar tour of the Newhallville and Dixwell neighborhoods last year, and plans to visit The Hill next summer.
Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking chief Doug Hausladen called the creation of the new park “miraculous.”
Hausladen, who coordinated between the ,mayor’s office and state Department of Transportation (DOT), said a surveillance camera will be installed under the pass to prevent illegal dumping. Colorful murals already adorn the pillars of the underpass to discourage mistreatment, and plans to paint the opposite pillar with art are in the works.
DOT Special Services Section Manager Paul Holmes said the new park makes the area a better place to live and visit. The DOT will install LED lights in the underpass by the end of the month, he said.
Soon members of the cycling group Critical Mass arrived on bicycles. Kitchen Zinc served everyone pizza in the park, and Audubon Connecticut displayed live birds of prey.
New Haven Harbor was designated as an urban wildlife refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013. Murphy-Dunning said the harbor is a critical habitat for birds that are flying south to north each year. To revitalize a love of nature in urban communities, the city created seven “urban oases,” including Dover Beach Park.
For 13 weeks each summer, seven Greenspace interns help volunteers dig, plant, and preserve green spaces. In the springtime and autumn, through a similar program called GreenSkills, a group of interns, high school students, and ex-offenders plant around 600 to 800 trees in the city. Planting trees decreases the temperature by providing shade and creating wind. Trees also stabilize the curb strip on city sidewalks.
Murphy-Dunning said most of the work is done by local volunteers, some of who have been stewards of their local green spaces for over 20 years. Stewardship, the preservation of plants over a long period of time, is a challenge to instill in communities, said Ozyck.
“I think it’s good for [neighborhoods] to feel like they have support from URI,” said Elisa Iturbe, a Greenpeace intern and recent School of Forestry graduate. Iturbe received a degree from the School of Architecture, and studies land-use planning and sustainable housing.
Another intern, Uma Bhandaram, spent this summer working around Bradley and Lyon street in Wooster Square. With the help of three high school students from Amistad and Eli Whitney, Bhandaram planted two cherry trees and a dogwood. As a student of environmental science, Bhandaram studied top-down computer modeling. But now she is working on the ground, and getting her hands dirty in the process.
“[Greenspace] is giving neighborhoods a sense of empowerment,” she said.
Returning to City Hall, the buses drove down Bishop Street, where 30 new trees were planted. Although 66 percent of Greenspace locations are in underserved communities, Ozyck said working in more affluent neighborhoods like East Rock is no less important.
Click here for a map of city greenspaces.