A scale model of the soon-to-be-built urban canopy parklet rests upon the desk that Misha Semenov ARC ’19 and Kassandra Leiva ARC ’19 share at the Yale School of Architecture. Five sheet-metal canopies sprout from wooden trunks of red maple, elm, sweetgum, pin oak and plane trees — all equipped with drawers full of educational facts about trees. The shade from school canopies covers a number of amenities, including tables and chairs, a bike rack and a children’s treehouse.

In October, the urban canopy parklet, designed by Semenov and Leiva, won New Haven’s first ever parklet design competition, which was co-hosted by goNewHavengo, MakeHaven and the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. The winning parklet received a $3,000 award for construction, which will begin this spring along Grand Avenue in Fair Haven. The city has yet to decide the park’s exact location. Semenov and Leiva selected Grand Avenue because, while full of businesses and institutions, the area lacked green public spaces. The duo hopes the parklet will bring together a diverse set of residents while also promoting awareness of and appreciation for nature.

“We’re both very interested in designing things that are local and are part of a community. That’s why we decided to focus on New Haven street trees,” Leiva said.  The duo’s project proposal said the five selected trees are the most significant in the New Haven area. 

Semenov said that, while he can’t expect people who haven’t grown up around nature to venture into the woods and suddenly feel connected to nature, the urban parklet will help residents feel as though they are immersed in nature without making them leave the city.

Mike Pinto, the deputy director for the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking and one of the parklet competition judges, said that, even though New Haven residents sometimes take for granted the amount of tree coverage in the city, he appreciates that Semenov and Leiva’s project addresses the possibility that the Elm City will have fewer urban trees in the future.

“One of the city’s concerns is that [street trees] don’t have as long a life expectancy as they would in a forest because their root systems are stressed by being underneath roadway,” Pinto said. “There are all kinds of issues that affect urban trees and urban canopies that do not exist out in the woods or countryside.”

Semenov and Leiva have been working closely with the Environmental Education Student Interest Group at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies to organize a series of student-led community programs, in both Spanish and English, at the parklet.

Securing funding is currently the biggest obstacle to the park’s construction. While the parklet competition prize amounted to $3,000, Semenov and Leiva predict total construction will cost around $10,000.

The duo will apply for up to $5,000 of funding from the Mayor’s Office as well as additional funding from the Greater New Haven Green Fund. If they receive enough funds, they hope to avoid using commercial, chemically-treated lumber and instead use both wood harvested from the Yale forests and reclaimed wood or barnwood for sale from RMFP.

Semenov said he is excited to participate on a project organized through the city, as opportunities like the urban parklet are often rare inside the Yale School of Architecture.

“In terms of the architecture school, we have some programs like the Jim Vlock Project, which last year partnered with the Columbus House, but outside of that it’s generally more difficult [to get involved] because students are very busy,” Leiva said.

J.R. Logan, the executive director of MakeHaven, a nonprofit community makerspace that helped host and promote the parklet competition, said he has always appreciated it when Yale students involve themselves in the New Haven community. While some students feel inclined to involve themselves in public space planning like the parklet, there are others who would rather focus on their studies within the University, Logan said.

He added that one of the challenges of working with students is that most stay in New Haven for only a few years but that large civil projects tend to take longer to complete.

“Certainly being able to work with those that are interested in being involved helps us to bring more voices and perspectives to various projects that are there,” Logan said.

The Yale School of Architecture was designated as its own separate professional school in 1972.

Kiddest Sinke | kiddest.sinke@yale.edu