D iehard New Haven pedestrians and dedicated downtowners know the secret: Perk up with parks.
A few minutes on a quiet bench near some well-coiffed shrubbery can do wonders for your urban mood.
The park pick-me-up needn’t be an all-encompassing nature immersion, such as a jog in Edgewood Park or a hike up East Rock. There are many small grassy enclaves that offer needed respites from busy workdays or window shopping excursions.
The little park opposite Ivy Noodle and Trailblazer, for instance, at the bustling intersection of Elm, Broadway and Park streets. It boasts a war memorial (honoring the 19th century soldiers in the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, the 6th Connecticut Volunteers and the 1st Connecticut Light Battery) and a peace memorial (an ongoing “Memory in Stones” sponsored by Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice, marking those who’ve died in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). It also boasts, as an enterprising local rock band once found out, a hidden power outlet—though it’s usually the tiny park area across the street, the one which extends from the parking lot near the shops on Broadway, that sponsors live outdoor music shows. What the memorial park doesn’t have is benches, but it has strong iron fences to lean on, and a delightful curved walkway.
Many of the city parks, from New Haven Green to Nathan Hale Fort, have military themes. The charming Monitor Square Park, a triangle shaped by Derby, Chapel and Winthrop streets, is named for the ship which fought in the famous Civil War naval Battle of Hampton Roads (aka Battle of Ironclads).
Some parks are less historical or memorial, and live for the moment. Park for the Arts, tucked behind Creative Arts Workshop and the Neighborhood Music School on Audubon Street (and also reachable via an unobtrusive staircase off of Whitney Avenue) is a great place to pause outdoors with a cup of coffee from Koffee? or take-out food from the many lunch joints in the neighborhood, between bouts of gallery-hopping or concert-going.
Likewise, Phelps Triangle, just a couple of blocks away from Park of the Arts, where Temple Street and Whitney Avenue join up at Trumbull Street, is where you can dash out from New Haven Museum when viewing all those historical artifacts indoors makes you want a quick reminder of the city as it is now. Phelps Triangle is lovingly planted and maintained by the Garden Club of New Haven.
Yale has its own large greenspaces—Old Campus, Cross Campus, and various other campuses—where students can take a bookbag-load off between classes. For those graduate students who populate Dwight and Edgewood streets (not to mention the many long term non-Yale homeowners on those blocks), there’s a lovely little park to enjoy in one of the nearest residential neighborhoods to Yale. According to one of its volunteer caretakers, Pat Wallace, who lives a few doors away, Rainbow Park is “the smallest official city park.” It was so designated several decades ago by Alderwoman Helen Leber, and has endured for decades as a cherished place to sit, think and let city cares blissfully fade away.
Rainbow Park (pictured above, in both summer and fall), a fenced-in plot of land on Edgewood Avenue between Howe and Dwight, was “created to be a little pocket park like this,” Wallace says. Upkeep is the responsibility of the city, but the park’s volunteers have no illusions that the Rainbow space—a small lot which could barely host a small house if it chose to, and instead is filled with plants, trees, benches and narrow brick paths—is “high on the priority list,” as Wallace puts it. “We’re the smallest park.” The smallest park is well cared for by the accustomed “Friends of…” type organization, and like all area parks is blessed by the number of community-friendly, environmentally conscious organizations now active in the city. The New Haven Urban Resources Initiative, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the City of New Haven Livable City Initiative, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Elm City Parks Conservancy have all directly supported and affected little old Rainbow Park. The neighbors, meanwhile, schedule meetings and events there. There’s hope for a concert series, community gatherings, outdoor film screenings and even a wi-fi hook-up.
What’s small and green and picks up your spirits and isn’t an M&M candy? A New Haven neighborhood park. They’re particularly vital in these days of scattered weather when skies can clear and turn blue at a minute’s notice and rays of warmth can beam into otherwise brisk or dreary days. You don’t have time to plan a picnic at Lighthouse or a long lounging period in the hammock. But you can race around the corner and luxuriate in a little greenery.
Park yourself in a park today—it’s the spark you need.
Written by Christopher Arnott. Summer photo by Christopher Arnott. Fall photos by Daily Nutmeg staff.