Mill River Trail Green Infrastructure Park

Transforming a vacant lot with the City of New Haven

Existing conditions at the end of Exchange Street (black and white, left) and corresponding visualization of completed project (color, right). Courtesy of Reed+Hildebrand.

Save the Sound and the City of New Haven have teamed up to transform a vacant lot at the corner of Haven and Exchange streets into a new green infrastructure park for area residents. The new project will also expand the Mill River Trail while offering a new outdoor space for Fair Haven residents. Reestablishing natural spaces like this one and reconnecting the city with local waterways will benefit a community that has endured environmental degradation and injustice for generations.

The project involves nearly 12,000 square feet of a closed roadway which will have its impervious asphalt replaced with specially-designed gardens and swales—what we term green stormwater infrastructure—to improve drainage around an area that includes the playfield of the John S. Martinez School. The park is also part of ongoing efforts by the Mill River Trail Advocates to expand the river-adjacent greenway through the neighborhood.

Visualization of full project extent from the John S. Martinez School playing field. Courtesy of Reed+Hildebrand.

Once completed to its full extent, the project will divert an estimated 2.3 million gallons of stormwater from the city’s combined sewer system every year, keeping pollutants and trash from flowing directly into the Mill River during significant rain events. The increased bioretention capacity brought about by the project will impact some 96,000 ­­­­square feet of surrounding streets and parking lots.

Initial project phases have been made possible thanks to funding from the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the Sarah M. Ferguson Fund, The Claire Bennitt Watershed Fund, Dorr Foundation, and Partners for Places—a joint effort by the Funder’s Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN) and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). Support for the project also came from Boston-based landscape architecture firm Reed + Hildebrand, who collaborated in creating these visualizations for the site’s transformation.

Students and teachers work on storm drain art with the guidance of Lots of Fish, an art and environmental education project based in New Haven.

Student and teacher collaborations

We’ve been thrilled to work closely with teachers from the John S. Martinez and Cold Spring Schools throughout the planning and design phase of this project. Thanks to their hard work and to the support of several funders, the students will be able to participate in dedicated planting events. The park will act as a living classroom in future years by utilizing special curricula that their teachers have developed around this site.

Nicole Davis, Watershed Coordinator at Save the Sound

In 2019, Save the Sound worked with Lots of Fish, students and teachers from the John S. Martinez and Cold Spring Schools, and the Mill River Trail Advocates to design and install storm drain art on Wolcott Street—just across the playing fields from the green infrastructure park project site. These same students worked with Save the Sound staff to install trail markers along the current path of the trail from Grand Avenue south to Criscuolo Park. This trail creation and improvement work was funded by the Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) Outdoor Places Grant Program.

Visualization of full project extent from Exchange Street. Courtesy of Reed+Hildebrand.

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