Urban Resources Initiative (URI) is a not-for-profit university partnership whose mission is to foster community-based land stewardship, promote environmental education and advance the practice of urban forestry. URI works in three areas:
URI is dedicated to community participation in urban ecosystem management. A substantial body of learning suggests that sustainable urban ecosystem management depends upon the meaningful participation of local residents. Those who know local conditions and whose daily actions influence the health and quality of urban ecosystems must play a central role in policy, design and management. Sustainable natural resource management and conservation cannot be achieved by technical, scientific solutions alone. Conservation efforts, especially in urban areas where people represent a significant element of the ecosystem, must emphasize social revitalization alongside environmental restoration. Therefore, our approach stresses the integration of the biophysical sciences with the social sciences.
To reach its goals, URI's work is organized around several ongoing programs:
Community Greenspace provides material supplies, technical advice, and classroom-based and hands-on training delivered by URI staff and Yale graduate student interns to support inner city New Haven residents who wish to reclaim and then maintain their distressed urban neighborhoods. Since 1995, we have completed hundreds of diverse urban restoration projects with an annual participation of about 1,000 New Haven residents, and planted well over 1,000 trees (45+ different species) with an overall tree survival rate of 90%. As a result of ongoing affiliation with Community Greenspace, residents report heightened membership in civic and voluntary organizations, rejuvenated feelings of neighborhood ownership, and lasting visible improvements in their daily environment. As one participating resident says, “the project brought neighbors into contact with each other who don't normally interact. It brought about a cohesiveness that did not previously exist.”
One issue facing urban neighborhoods is the growing acreage of abandoned, derelict open spaces. These abandoned lands pose a current and future threat to the quality of life in our cities. These patches of urban land – each less than one acre but totaling hundreds of acres across a city – create great gaps in the landscape: sinkholes where environmental, economic and community potential is wasted. The issues concerning the assessment, restoration and maintenance of these lands are priority concerns.
Each summer, Yale students work as community foresters as part of the Community Greenspace program. We provide Yale F&ES graduate students with supervised, clinical training to supplement their academic work. Professional training increasingly leans toward experiential, authentic learning where students gain real world practice in their field. At URI we have created a program where forestry students can grapple with the critical elements of environmental management while making a real contribution to the urban community we call home.
URI's GreenSkills program offers a unique job opportunity to high school students and ex-offenders, all while combating the decline in New Haven's street tree canopy. The program began in 2007, when the New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees faced a backlog of requests for street trees. The city decided to partner with URI to plant the backlog of trees, and URI took advantage of this opportunity to offer green jobs to teenagers and ex-offenders. GreenSkills pairs crews of five high school interns or ex-offender apprentices with pairs of Yale graduate student interns. The interns and apprentices receive hands-on training on tree planting and maintenance. At the end of each planting season, interns and apprentices come away with a deeper understanding of New Haven's ecology as well as marketable professional skills. Spring planting takes place from March through May; fall planting occurs from September to November.
To learn more, visit the Urban Resources Initiative website.