Thanks to support from the rest of East Rock, isolated Cedar Hill will receive $10,000 toward a grassroots beautification effort designed to build community pride and to connect to surrounding areas of the city currently separated by highway overpasses.
That was the result of a decision of the East Rock Community management team at its monthly meeting Monday night at mActivity gym on Niccoll Street. The team voted to allocate the entirety of its annual Neighborhood Public Improvement Program (NPIP) funds towards the project in Cedar Hill, a small set of self-contained streets at the northeastern tip of the East Rock community.
For each of the past three years, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the city’s anti-blight agency, has made available $10,000 in NPIP funds to each of the city’s community management teams to help them address neighborhood quality-of-life concerns.
An annual exercise in direct democracy and “participatory budgeting,” NPIP encourages local residents to discuss, debate, and vote on how they would most like to spend a small portion of the city’s budget. Some neighborhoods have decided to spend their money on traffic calming measures, others on resources that will help raise awareness for local cultural events.
This year, the East Rock team voted to invest its dollars in Cedar Hill and in the women who are committed to transforming their neighborhood into a clean, safe, culturally vital community for residents and visitors alike.
(Meanwhile, Newhallville’s team, which is technically part of the same policing district, gets its own $10,000 It is expected to vote Tuesday night to spend it again on an “ambassadors” program, which pays young people in yellow and black uniforms to walk around the neighborhood, picking up trash and greeting people.)
Cedar Hill resident Camille Ansley, joined at the meeting by neighbors Kennya Adams-Martin and Betty Thompson, offered a 45-minute presentation on Monday night that explained why her community could put the $10,000 to good use.
Ansley introduced herself as a mom, a full-time student at the University of New Haven, a full-time employee at Sikorsky Aircraft, a member of the Cedar Hill Block Watch, and a passionate, meticulous community advocate.
“We’re asking you to assist us in reclaiming the Cedar Hill neighborhood,” she told the room. “We have been exposed and aggressively attacked in many ways.”
She said she has counted 61 different pieces of nuisance graffiti in her neighborhood, which includes only eight blocks and 180 homes between Rock Street and Warren Place, near East Rock and the Hamden border.
As she clicked through a prepared slideshow, the team saw pictures of the pervasive negligence and blight that Ansley, Adams-Martin, and Thompson contend against: graffiti tags blanketing street signs and park walls; abandoned mattresses leaning against telephone poles and piles of dumped tires strewn across the park; trash overflowing in a neighbor’s backyard and a drug deal taking place right in front of Ansley’s car.
“This is eroding our community,” she said, pointing to graffiti sprayed over a parking sign. “We have children in our neighborhood and from other neighborhoods who are continuing to see that this is a place where they can graffiti, and they do, because nothing happens to their graffiti. It doesn’t come off. It stays on, and they see an opportunity.”
“Not only do we have these issues,” she continued, gesturing towards the abandoned mattress. “But we don’t have quick turnaround on recovery and taking these things away. This lets people think they can do whatever they want and get away with it.”
These images of decay and neglect were simply prelude, however, to the vision that Ansley and her neighbors have for what Cedar Hill could be.
“There’s a new development on State Street with a beautiful mural that says, ‘Welcome to New Haven,’” she said with a sly smile, referring to the artwork on the side of the Corsair apartment complex. “And when I saw that, I thought, ‘That’s not where people enter New Haven. They just passed through Cedar Hill!’ So I want a mural in our neighborhood that says, ‘Welcome to New Haven. Cedar Hill.’”
After doing her own research online and speaking with some of the artists involved in the Under 91 Project on Humphrey Street, Ansley has put together a proposed budget that would direct a good chunk of the NPIP funds towards creating an expansive series of graffiti murals to line the concrete walls underneath the I-91 overpass on State Street near Exit 5.
“Art to me brings and instills a better community,” she said as she visualized the mural for her audience. She argued that money put towards buying paint, brushes, primer, and an artist’s time would add up to so much more than the sum of its constituent parts. If she could get community input on the design and painting of the mural, and if she could get a mural that celebrates New Haven in general and Cedar Hill in particular, then kids in her neighborhood would feel a stake in the community, and would work that much harder to keep it clean, safe, and their own.
The overpass graffiti mural is the centerpiece of an ambitious 29-point wish list that includes 16 new street signs, bus vouchers for volunteer park cleaners, speed-cautioning posters and sandwich boards for every block, new plant barrels, and a neighborhood birdhouse library.
Recognizing that the $10,000 of NPIP would likely not cover everything on her wish list, she told the team that she is committed to setting up a GoFundMe page with a fundraising goal of $50,000 to cover the rest.
With rounds of applause and a decisive vote in her favor, the community management team encouraged her to keep dreaming big, and to start putting those big dreams into action.