Neighbors of an overgrown open space on Cherry Ann Street will soon have a safe place for their kids.
That promise comes from city officials following a campaign by neighbors on the dead-end street, which straddles the New Haven and Hamden border. A park is evolving on unused land there that until recently was overgrown.
Neighbors and their elected representatives gathered for an update on the park last week.
Connie Vereen, who has lived on the Hamden side of Cherry Ann since 1995, and her daughter, Barbara Vereen, who lives on the New Haven side, led Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn of New Haven and Councilman Oswald Brown of Hamden’s Third District (pictured above) on a tour of the new park site, a show of cross-border cooperation as much as it was a touting of the park plans’ progress.
The New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation, and Trees owns the land. Connie Vereen said neighbors started talking about trying to convert the land into a park 12 years ago, when then-New Haven Mayor John DeStefano was in office.
Two years ago the neighborhood got more organized, with Clyburn’s help. They began meeting in earnest with parks officials.
“Delphine and the neighbors really came together,” said deputy parks chief Christy Hass. You now have a neighborhood that’s really enthused.”
“We’re engaging all the players and that’s how parks develop,” she said, “not by someone bringing in a blueprint and saying ‘I want to build this now.’”
The parks department set aside $170,000 to start planning and working on the park. It assigned its landscape architect, David Moser, to meet with neighbors to design the final product, which may include a tot play area.
Meanwhile, groups like Urban Resources Initiative (URI) and the Audubon Center joined in, helping prepare the land and put in some walking trails. Next steps, according to Hass, include working on adding pedestrian access to the park from Jackie Robinson School and Elizabeth Street, so people don’t have to drive to the Cherry Ann Street dead end. The land has already become a usable space; it will develop into a more fully planned park in coming months and years.
In June, volunteers from both Hamden and New Haven worked two Saturday mornings from 10 to noon to turn the above scene ...
... into this, to clear the overgrown land.
Barbara Vereen (pictured) gave the attendees some geographic bearings during last week’s visit. On its east side the park borders Southern Connecticut State University, while straight ahead and west are Jackie Robinson Middle School and Elizabeth Street.
The planned park will help bring an identity to a neighborhood that has long lacked one. Vereen said the moniker she often applies to the area is “New Hamden.”
For Vereen, the inspiration for the park was a problem she noticed when she served as the neighborhood block watch captain for 13 years: Since Cherry Ann is a dead-end street, an unusual number of children “use the street as their playground,” often amid cars whizzing by (pictured above). The constant onrush of cars, often going too fast for a dead-end street, caused Vereen to fear for the kids’ safety.
“We’re trying to get something for these kids to play at,” she said. “Every neighborhood has a park.”
The area was once largely inhabited by off-campus students of Southern Connecticut State University, added Vereen. No longer. Block watch co-captain Gwendette Hinton estimated that “we have 70 to 80 children on this street.” The neighborhood’s demographics make a park not just an aesthetic improvement to the overgrown area, but a necessity, she said.
Last week’s tour was also the first meeting between Hamden Councilman Brown and New Haven Alder Clyburn. They vowed future meetings between both sides of the New Haven-Hamden line.
According to Brown, the relationship between young people on the two sides of the border has not always been exemplary. Sometimes, when New Haven youths go to play in Hamden’s Rushford Park, there is “fighting ... a little bickering, just stupid kids’ stuff,” which will hopefully change once the new Cherry Ann Street park is installed.
“If we could get those kids to play together, it would make a lot of difference,” he said.