Client: The Nucleus Group
Location: New Haven, CT, United States
Completion date: 2020
Architect and Sculpter
Svigals + Partners
Urban Resources Initiative
Marlene Miller Pratt
The first memorial of its kind in the country, the Botanical Garden is a place for families to honor loved ones lost to gun violence while raising awareness of the impact of gun deaths and inspiring leaders to address the multiple roots of violence. Central to the experiential landscape is the Lost Generation sculpture – a rhythmic composition of solids and voids symbolizing the inescapable absence created by tragedy. Situated at the mid-point between the garden’s entrance and its “heart”, the perspective sculpture transforms between various viewpoints. Fabricated in aluminum, the viewing experience serves as a reminder of the fragility and strength inherent in the family unit, and is symbolic of the future lineages lost when a life is taken by gun violence.
The garden design was inspired by the recognition that each death has a compounded impact on the community. The magnitude of gun violence in New Haven emerges from the site’s paved walkway upon entry into the garden. Arranged by year, an engraved paver is placed for each individual lost to gun violence in New Haven since 1976. Along the pathway, a series of wind chimes set a serene tone in harmony with the quiet rush of West River in the backdrop and the face of West Rock in the distance.
The garden’s pathways culminate in a circular plaza where crescent-shaped walls and gardens embrace a central planting bed containing the Tree of Life – a European Beech tree that will grow to provide shelter and shade for garden visitors. Surrounded by benches, the plaza can serve as a place to reflect or as an outdoor classroom where local students may learn about conflict resolution and witness the power of community action. The back of the plaza is bounded by a stone memory wall, containing 18 tiles engraved with memories of loved ones lost. Any visitor may find a connection to the sentiments - “Their smile was contagious”, “She was fearless”, “Loved to dance”.
The Botanical Garden project was initiated in 2017 by a group of New Haven mothers who had lost children to gun violence. The mothers found each other through the Survivors of Homicide Victims Support Group sponsored by the New Haven Police Department. Led by Marlene Miller Pratt, the mothers subsequently formed the Botanical Garden Nucleus Group, and soon partnered with Urban Resources Initiative (URI) to work together to carry out the mother’s vision. Together with assistance from the City of New Haven and local alders, a city-owned parcel in Westville was identified in 2018 and would become the home of the Botanical Garden of Healing. In April 2018, Svigals + Partners Architects joined the effort and facilitated a series of engagement workshops to help envision what the memorial might become. These workshops brought together the initial group of mothers, URI staff, additional victim families, community members, local advocacy groups, the New Haven Parks Department, and a volunteer team of designers from Yale University and the University of Hartford. From the personal stories shared -- detailing loss, grief, struggle, as well as recovery and hope -- the garden’s design emerged.
For every life lost to gun violence, generations cease to exist. Please take part in diminishing gun violence. From advocating for legislative action and helping strengthen families, there are many ways to get involved: • Support mentoring programs for children and teens • Support interpersonal skills training for students to help resolve conflicts • Support local youth-service organizations • Bring Visitors to the Botanical Garden to raise awareness of the gun violence epidemic • Volunteer at the Botanical Garden to help tend and maintain beauty Inspired by the mission of the garden and the realization of the impact of gun violence in the New Haven area, hundreds of individuals and many local organizations have volunteered in the garden’s ongoing planting and care. The act of being part of this effort and sharing a purpose has connected this community and brought fellowship in deep and unexpected ways. The pain of loss is profound and its shadow will remain, but the Botanical Garden is a symbol of our ability to come together, grow, and strive for a better tomorrow.