1 Million Trees–Not in my backyard

Or On My Sidewalk Either

east_harlem_streetAs April comes to an end…crazy I know, it seems like a good time to reflect on the new branding of this month as 1 Million Trees Month. What actually happened during this month, in terms of advancing the plan to increase our urban “forest” by 1 million trees? What is the projection of the plan for the future? And most importantly, what do New Yorkers think about these new neighbors?
A healthy East Harlem street tree.

Well, to date 54,484 trees have been planted. The 14th annual Hands On Day, in which over 6,500 New Yorkers volunteered to roll up their sleeves and participate in community gardening or greening, planted 20,000 trees in one day alone. This was the largest turn out ever for Hands On Day.  As far as the future plans go, it seems that there is much reliance on hope…sounds familiar. But really, the commitment by the city to plant 1 million trees seems to have no specific timeline or benchmarks; just a beginning and an end–2017. This is not to say that the plan is moot, but it relies heavily on community participation–people requesting trees, suggesting a good location and stewardship projects between the public and private sector.  Perhaps though, it needs to be community driven as certain urban foresters have learned the hard way. New Yorkers are not always excited about new trees. One man decided to plant himself in the hole where a tree was supposed to take root, in protest. The city eventually decided they would not plant there.

What is most interesting about that anecdote though, is that the situation occurred in Harlem, an area of the city that houses many public open spaces and parks, but also suffers some of the worst asthma rates in the country. Harlem would certainly benefit from more trees if we solely looked at quantitative assessments and the benefits that more trees can bring to an area. But sometimes, concerns over branches falling on cars and who will clean up the leaves trumps the benefits of them. Perhaps the Million Trees Initiative needs to have more of a community education emphasis, maybe even focusing on young people, so that people view trees as part of the solution, rather than the problem.

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