As a boy, Thomas Burwell always looked forward to the July 4 block party on his street in Fair Haven. More than two decades after the last such party was held, Burwell decided to convert nostalgia into action.
Burwell, now the Ward 14 Democratic committee co-chair and a former candidate for alder, reconvened the annual Exchange Street block party, on a historic residential block behind the Fair Haven School.
The second year of the revived block party kicked off Saturday, with a variety of refreshing activities for a hot summer afternoon.
It featured banner-making, rhythmic Zumba workouts, tree planting, and food. For kids, whether barefoot or on their bikes, the fire department installed a pressurized sprinkler to shoot cool water from a hydrant .
Among the half-dozen area groups setting up tables or hanging painted banners or performing were Ivette Altieri and Latanya Elliott of Beyond Fitness.
The exercise studio leaders (pictured) got the street rocking with their demonstration of low-cost, high energy Zumba lessons. They began last year in the old Robby Lyn swimsuit factory complex on State Street but are now offering free classes every Tuesday night out of new digs on Laura Street near the Port District.
The dance instructors brought their moves and rhythm to Exchange Street in part because Altieri, the founder, lives nearby on Wolcott Street and she wanted to promote the importance—and affordability—of staying fit, she said.
Burwell (in the safety vest on the right) is a busy guy in the reviving projects department. He’s also the coordinator of the Exchange Street greenspace project, and helms a revived Friends of Quinnipiac River Park. He incorporated tree-planting into the block party.
Burwell got help from little peach-tree planters Kemora and Jason Blake and co-coordinator Ed Rodriguez, as they dug what seemed to them a giant hole to accommodate one of several Urban Resources Initiative (URI) fruit trees that were going in to the long rectangular plot adjacent to the Fair Haven Branch Library.
“We’re trying to build community. People sit on the porch, don’t talk to each other,” he said. But when you have activities and food, it’s another story.
Abby Feldman shares the value of doing things together and in public—even art. One of the leaders of the year-old Free Artists of New Haven, Feldman and her colleagues displayed several banners, including one collectively painted by kids and older folks at the Atwater Senior Center.
The “Levantate,” banner, which means “rise up” in Spanish, emerged from a series of prompts for each letter. Participants were asked to imagine and then pictorialize something they wanted to see more of in the Fair Haven community.
“Art is great, but not enough people are experiencing it,” Feldman said.
A graduate of Educational Center for the Arts, Feldman returned to New Haven after college and realized the solitary life of a studio artist was insufficient for her. She said the Free Artists group was formed because the city is full of artists who need to be brought together for their benefit and that of the community.
Meanwhile, nearby on the grassy playground area beside the school, Marilyn and Luis Rosa of the Boxing In Faith Gym were hosting the second in their “School’s Out, Summer Bouts” regional boxing demonstrations.
Before a large and cheering throng, one of their 16-year-old stars, Nadya Caban, emerged victorious from three two-minute rounds with Rimari Lebron.
The event, though not directly part of the Exchange Street block party, did reflect another aspect of the vitality and revival of the neighborhood, said Burwell.
Paula Forni, who’s lived on Pierpont Street for 57 years, pronounced the party “great.” She was minding her grandkids, Emma and Alyssa Russo, who were happily braving the onslaught of the sprinkler.
She, Burwell, and Burwell’s mom, Virginia Cappola, reminisced briefly about another long-ago event, Fair Haven Day. That was when part Quinnipiac River Park hosted weekend-long family soiree for the neighborhood.
Forni said she thought it was inspired back in 1976 by celebrations of the national bicentennial.
Burwell said reviving that could be next on his list.