The New Haven Green occupies the center square of New Haven’s original nine squares. An oasis in the midst of downtown, it serves as a common gathering place for the enjoyment of all. Declared a National Historic District in 1970, the Green is lined with elms and other shade trees. Specimen trees, some very old, others planted in recent decades as part of a plan to restore the Green, dot the interior of the portion known as the Upper Green, west of the three historic churches, east of Yale’s Old Campus.
This is the site Occupy New Haven has chosen to occupy. The sole surviving Occupy encampment in New England, Occupy New Haven has been asked by City officials to vacate in recent weeks.
The Occupiers refuse to leave. They obtained a lawyer, Norm Pattis. They received an extension to the deadline set by the City for their eviction. They had their day in court. They received another extension until April 9, when a judge will issue an official decision on the matter.
I sympathized with the Occupiers when they first arrived. How could I not? They were angry about bailouts for the same banks who had foreclosed on so many. They were angry at the wealthy 1% when they themselves could not find work. I agreed they had a right to assemble on the Green as countless other protestors (including me) had over the years. But setting up a permanent tent city? I draw the line there. The right to free speech is not the same as the right to camp on public land indefinitely.
Where the Occupy camp stands, the site is an eyesore. The Green is no longer green; the bare ground is packed down hard. The cost to the City for police and sanitation mounts each day the Occupiers remain.
I love plants and trees. I am on my way to becoming a Master Gardener. One of the first things we learned in class is that tree roots need oxygen to thrive. One of the biggest killers of urban trees is soil compaction. Soil compaction restricts water and oxygen uptake by roots, and is associated with … foot traffic … and a host of other factors. With the weight of the Occupation over their roots all these months, the trees must be stressed. A stressed tree is prone to illness and disease, just as people are. It is estimated that just one healthy 10 year old tree absorbs 48 pounds of CO2 a year, releasing enough oxygen into the air to support two human beings. This benefit is in addition to the shade a healthy tree supplies, the wildlife it supports, and the beauty it contributes to the urban landscape.
The Occupiers' tent city is depriving City residents and visitors of their right to enjoy the Green, “one of the most beautiful public greens in the country.” It is costing the City money it does not have to spend. Most importantly, it is jeopardizing the health of the Green's trees.
It is time for Occupy to go. Yes, I feel a twinge of remorse in saying this. But as a City resident who is striving to be “green,” it is impossible for me to think any other way.