How do we build New Haven into an oasis for both people and nature?  That’s the question behind the New Haven Harbor Watershed Urban Refuge Partnership — a growing, citywide effort.

In 2013, Common Ground joined with a coalition of local and national partners to create a matrix of urban oases across our city — in front yards, neighborhood greenspaces, city parks, and school grounds — and to mobilize these oases as rich habitat for wildlife and rich learning spaces for people.

A Local Effort — Growing Into A National Model

The effort was launched when Audubon Connecticut brought together local groups — including Common Ground, the New Haven Urban Resources Initiative, and the Yale Peabody Museum — to dream about how we can work together to improve wildlife habitat in New Haven. We enlisted the help of the New Haven Parks Department and several New Haven Public Schools, recognizing that our city’s parks and school grounds are remarkable community and natural resources. The partnership grew into an effort that’s focused on both people and nature, building on strong research that urban green spaces improve health, create amazing learning opportunities for our city’s students, clean our air and water, build community, and increase economic vitality.

Now, the project has attracted national resources and support. The American Honda Foundation stepped up with a $75,000 grant to fuel the creation of schoolyard habitats at Common Ground and several partner New Haven schools. The Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other funders have provided with major funding for the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative. The national head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service traveled to our city to name the New Haven Harbor Watershed one of the nation’s first Urban wildlife refuge partnerships, and New Haven has subsequently been named an Urban Bird Treaty City.

Our impact and partnership have continued to grow.

Common Ground Students, Staff Create Habitats & Learning Opportunities

At Common Ground

On our campus at the base of West Rock, we are building a model urban oasis — including an educational wetland, 3/4 of an acre of native wildlife habitat, interpretive exhibits designed by our students, and outdoor classrooms. We’ll put this new resource to use in teaching the 15,000+ children and adults that come to our site for school field trips, after school programs, weekend workshops, and summer camps.

At New Haven K-8 Schools

Common Ground and our partners are also working with seven local K-8 schools — Barnard, Worthington Hooker, Columbus Family Academy, Edgewood, East Rock, Conte West Hills, and Bishop Woods — to create schoolyard habitats on their school grounds, and to use these habitats as resources for their science classes and after-school programs. Common Ground educators are operating weekly after-school programs focused on habitats and ecology, and offering support and training to teachers to use new schoolyard habitats as learning laboratories.

In Our Classes

Common Ground High School students have stepped up as leaders in this project. In their AP Biology class, they’ve worked with curators at the Peabody Museum to design permanent, museum-quality outdoor interpretive exhibits for these schoolyard habitats. In another class — called Biodiversity — they partnered with a master gardener and a landscape architect to design and install pollinator gardens and bird habitats on our campus, and to help create a new educational wetland. Biodiversity students have also analyzed changes in insect biodiversity at urban refuge sites.

Beyond The Classroom

Through Common Ground’s Green Jobs Corps — our youth employment program — other students have taken on paid work on the Urban Oasis project. One crew has helped collect baseline data on plant, insect, and bird diversity — to see if the new habitats we’re creating will really make a difference. Our Schoolyard Habitat crew has provided support to our schoolyard habitat partner schools, and restored habitat on Common Ground’s campus. Another crew has worked with the Urban Resources Initiative to take on habitat restoration at city parks and neighborhood greenspaces.