Street Lighting, Mural Projects Win Out In Downtown Participatory Budgeting

Lucy Gellman | April 3rd, 2020

Street Lighting, Mural Projects Win Out In Downtown Participatory Budgeting

Community Management Teams  |  Culture & Community  |  Downtown  |  Public art  |  Arts & Culture  |  Wooster Square  |  COVID-19


A rendering from Town Green Special Services District and Atelier Cue. 

A mural of a pioneering Black New Havener by a renowned Uruguayan street artist. A colorful crosswalk designed to bridge two neighborhoods divided by State Street. And overhead lighting designed to make that same intersection feel safer for all who cross it.

Thursday night, the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSCMT) announced by email that it will be funding those neighborhood beautification projects with $20,000 from the Neighborhood Public Improvement Program (NPIP). NPIP is a project of the city’s anti-blight Liveable City Initiative.

Over 75 New Haveners, all of whom live or work in the Downtown and Wooster Square neighborhoods, voted digitally for the projects. The overpass project has received $7,000; the crosswalk has received $8,000; the mural has received $5,000. The former two projects are spearheaded by the Town Green Special Services District, and the latter by Site Projects New Haven.

“I was excited by the amount of ideas and the quality of the ideas,” said DWSCMT Chair Caroline Smith Thursday when reached by phone. “Doing it virtually was definitely not preferable—but because we had the ability to do an online vote, there were a lot more possibilities for community outreach and accessibility. It did raise our standard of excellence.”

Of ten original proposals, those that won focused on not just public space, but also community participation. Both the overpass and crosswalk are part of “Intersection To Connection,” a $250,000, three-phase plan from Town Green Special Services District and Atelier Cue designers Marissa Mead and Ioana Barac.

Elizabeth Bickley out by the Chapel/State intersection in January. Lucy Gellman File Photo. 

When the project is finished, it will comprise a painted crosswalk, LED-illuminated overpass, landscaped plaza and information kiosk (read more about that here and here) intended to bridge Wooster Square and Downtown New Haven.

Elizabeth Bickley, manager of public space planning and development for Town Green, described both projects as catalysts for neighborhood connection.

“From State to Olive streets feels like a no man’s land and is not properly lit at night,” she wrote in her application. “Since 2016, city departments have been preparing plans and encouraging economic development to reactivate the area and to correct the mistakes. To help realize the city’s vision of reconnecting Wooster Square to Downtown, Town Green District proposes we use public art—specifically light art—interventions to turn this area from a divider into a neighborhood connector.”

Originally slated for mid-April—around the now-cancelled Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival—the original crosswalk design called for hands-on participation from the community. The overpass was meant to increase a sense of safety while walking between the neighborhoods, in a section of the city torn apart by Urban Renewal. Smith said that they will still happen, but may be on a longer timeline.

A rendering from Town Green Special Services District and Atelier Cue. 

$5,000 in NPIP funding is also going to Site Projects New Haven. The public art nonprofit will be commissioning Uruguayan artist David de la Mano for a large-scale mural commemorating the life and work of William Lanson, the free, Black architect who built New Haven’s Long Wharf and part of the Farmington Canal in the early nineteenth century.

Site Projects has secured a wall—33 Crown Street, where Acme Furniture once bustled with activity—and has made the case that de la Mano’s work will increase both foot traffic and economic stimulus in the area. It would not be the first effort to bring foot traffic back to the Ninth Square: in 2018 Town Green paired up with Artspace New Haven to install light art in the windows of empty buildings.

“We intend to develop buzz around town and in local media such that more New Haven residents will wander in to investigate,” wrote Site Projects Director Laura Clarke in the application. “We expect that the content of the mural as it progresses to completion will instigate discussions and debate as to what is being presented,” she added. “When enough people have gathered around to analyze and criticize the artwork, they become stakeholders in de la Mano’s visual ideas.”

Like the crosswalk, Site Projects has braced for delays. Originally, de la Mano was slated to fly into New Haven in mid-June. In its original application, Site Projects also included a plan for community partnerships, including outreach to young, aspiring muralists in New Haven led by New Haven artist David Sepulveda. It’s now unclear if either of those will be possible by early summer.

Smith said she has already been working on a new COVID-19 timeline. In early March, she moved voting online, in the midst of mounting fears around the global pandemic. She gave people a week to submit their votes, instead of voting in a single meeting (groups including the Fair Haven and East Rock Community Management Teams used a similar system this year). In addition to a voting option on Google Forms, she invited people to email or call if they felt uncomfortable using the new system.

After the three projects had been selected, she also checked in with LCI Deputy Director of Neighborhood and Property Services Frank D’Amore and Downtown/Wooster Square Neighborhood Specialist Carmen Mendez.

They assured her that LCI could be flexible this year: exact budgets didn’t need to be submitted by June. In the meantime, Smith is working with Town Green and Site Projects to help them get the city approvals they will need for the projects to go forward. Town Green's projects are still pending approval from the city’s Board of Alders, and will need a permit from the department of Traffic, Transportation and Parking.

“My favorite part of this year with NPIP was this question around who gets to vote,” Smith said.

Many of the community management teams only allow people who have attended five or six consecutive meetings, held on weeknights, to vote. Two years ago, the DWSCMT struck that from its bylaws to make voting more accessible.

“That spurred a lot of conversation and dialogue about accessibility, about ‘what are our values?’" she recalled. "We had a meeting in November where we talked about how we needed values grounded in equity. And then we took steps to make it more accessible than it has been before.”