Planting Trees and Growing Community Leaders

For more than two decades, Urban Resources Initiative and the Community Greenspace program has helped volunteers around the city create safe and livable neighborhoods.

The YOW Plant Brigade – a diverse group of neighbors dedicated to removing lead contaminated soil from front yards and installing streetscape plantings Photo credit: Urban Resources Initiative

When neighbors transform a vacant lot or trash strewn curbside into a flowering pocket park or garden, they are doing more than planting bulbs and shrubs. They are building strong communities where people care about one another and the places where they live.

For more than two decades, the Community Greenspace program has helped volunteers around the city take charge of making safe and livable neighborhoods. The beautiful spaces that result from their work typically begin with a group of neighbors who come together with a vision for what they want their community to look like.

"They will say, 'I want my community to look beautiful,' or 'I want to create a safe place for kids to play,' says Collen Murphy-Dunning, Executive Director of Urban Resources Initiative (URI), which runs the program. "These places undergo magical transformations. Children are now playing in parks that had been dumping grounds."

Because gardens don't maintain themselves, the ongoing work of watering, weeding, and adding plants brings neighbors together in support of a common purpose. It's part of URI's larger vision of facilitating community building.

URI provides technical assistance to 50 volunteer groups around the city, each maintaining a little urban oasis. Volunteers from one group will frequently pitch in to help another group establish or maintain a greenspace in a different neighborhood, Murphy-Dunning says.

"To me it's extraordinary that people come out on a weekly basis to do this work for their neighborhoods," says Murphy-Dunning. To illustrate her point, Murphy-Dunning points to an elderly man who has maintained the flowers in pocket garden in Newhallville since the late 1990s.

"When I asked him why he has done this for so long, he said, 'Because this is my community.' It's really uplifting to support these groups."

URI hosts an annual tour of Greenspaces and end-of-year party that is attended by residents and city officials, including the mayor.

The Community Greenspace program was launched in 1995 as a program of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Originally the Community Greenspace and Garden program, the program has since been split into two parts. URI runs the Community Greenspace Program, which supports landscape and flowering plantings; the New Haven Land Trust manages the Community Garden Program, which plants vegetable gardens and teaches residents about growing food.

The Community Foundation has continued to support both programs through its grantmaking.

Urban Resources Initiative (URI) is both a nonprofit and a program of the Hixon Center of Urban Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Its other core program is Greenskills, which pairs city youth and ex-offenders with Yale interns to learn urban forestry skills. The program has a contract with the City of New Haven to plant trees requested by property owners and to create green infrastructure such as bioswales, which naturally filter pollutants from storm water runoff.

For more information about the Urban Resources Initiative, visit its profile on

Did you know?

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.