Hixon Center & URI: The Urban Environment at F&ES Part II

Hixon Center & URI: The Urban Environment at F&ES Part II

From Sarah:

This is Part II of our urban ecology journey at the Hixon Center. I’ll share with you a bit more about the Center and then delve into the Urban Resources Initiative (URI), a branch of the Center. Be sure to read through to the end, where I’ll give you some tips on how to get involved!

When I spoke with Colleen Murphy-Dunning, the Staff Director of the Hixon Center and URI, she reminded me of how important it is to understand urban ecology. The Hixon Center recently took a survey of alumni who graduated over the last 20 years. It received about 900 responses and found that 70% of respondents said that their professional work does affect the urban environment. This number is not extraordinary, but it shows the need to develop solutions to the challenge of environmental sustainability in an urbanizing world.

Although much of the Hixon Center’s projects are student-driven, faculty have research projects here, too. For example, faculty are in discussion about the student-nicknamed “Swale.” When you visit F&ES, you’ll see the curvaceous hockey stadium across the street, nicknamed the Whale. Conducting research in the Swale reflects Yale’s vision to create a living laboratory on campus by providing opportunities for education, research, and experimentation. Goals include enhancing habitat, improving capacity to capture storm water, enhancing water quality, and serving as an educational resource and demonstration site. In addition to addressing ecological restoration, concerns of security, aesthetics, social constraints, and ease of management will be considered.

I am excited to next highlight the Urban Resources Initiative (URI). This is a non-profit university partnership within the Hixon Center that fosters community-based stewardship. URI actually started nearly a decade before the Hixon Center. It focuses on three areas: community forestry extension, environmental education, and ecosystem management and planning. URI concentrates these efforts in New Haven communities.

URI offers clinical experience for students to work in a city with its citizens and government. The GreenSkills Program is one place where students can work with community members. It is a vehicle for engaging teens with nature through a green jobs program. Yale graduate student interns –12 interns or so per semester, working ten hours per week, and more working full time in the summer – lead teams of teens to plant street trees. GreenSkills expanded in 2010 to reach more “vulnerable populations” – adult ex-offenders recently released from prison, and people in substance-abuse recovery. The GreenSkills interns work with these adults to help them reintegrate into their communities. Planting trees together helps build community and a sense of pride and ownership in trees. Colleen told me that some of the adults in the Program have returned to their trees, showing their children the trees they’ve planted. The Program pays the interns, teens, and adults alike, and helps the vulnerable populations become resilient and recover. It benefits the environment, too, of course, because interns learn and teach which trees are best suited for the New Haven climate, soils, and parks. Plant a Garden: Build Community. Check out these inspiration videos documenting URI projects: http://environment.yale.edu/uri/videos/.

Some of those videos are from another URI program, Community Greenspace. Greenspace supports community-driven projects where citizen volunteers initiate and implement environmental projects to bring positive change their neighborhoods. Each summer, about fifty volunteer groups plant trees in neighborhoods and parks. The Yale interns work as community foresters and are assigned portfolios of groups to support by helping build consensus on project goals, and by providing technical guidance on species selection, planting, and maintenance. Yale students are trained to work with these communities, learning how to figure out what the people who LIVE there think are most important. The interns learn a lot because of their mixed portfolios addressing different environmental concerns. The broad range allows them to apply this community stewardship to other communities in the United States and abroad.

Finally, what can recently admitted students do to start getting involved with the Hixon Center and URI? Colleen said that you could definitely shoot her an email expressing your interest in the community stewardship programs. Come and visit the Hixon Center, and help summer interns plant some trees over the summer! Get a head start on the year by checking out the Urban Dialogue and the Alumni Lecture series, to see what interesting programs the Center has offered and plans to continue for next year. Following these programs, students were able sign up for interviews with speakers for job prospects.

I found URI to be one of the most inspiring places in New Haven, and hope to see you planting a tree or two this summer!