Bette Fulfills Dream…New York Will Plant One Millionth Tree On Wednesday

New York Times
New York City Prepares to Plant One Millionth Tree, Fulfilling a Promise

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In a Bronx park named for the poet who wrote the poem “Trees,” New York will plant its one millionth tree on Wednesday, capping a campaign that reflected the city’s determination to be in the vanguard of fighting climate change.

The former political adversaries Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a rare joint appearance, will oversee the planting of a lacebark elm at Joyce Kilmer Park in the South Bronx. The eight-year-old tree is 25 feet tall and weighs 6,500 pounds.

The final planting in the campaign begun by Mr. Bloomberg in 2007 punctuates a broad green initiative by the former mayor in which he worked to create new parkland, make the city more resilient and gird against climate change. Mr. de Blasio built on those efforts with his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 80 percent by 2050.

Other cities, from Los Angeles to Denver to Boston, have pursued tree-planting campaigns in recent years, but none were as ambitious as New York’s and none have been completed.

Scientists and landscape architects mostly agree with New York City’s belief in the power of planting hundreds of thousands of new trees on sidewalks, in city parks and on private lands like churches and college campuses. The millionth tree increases the city’s total tree population by about 20 percent.

“Trees do a lot,” said Denise Hoffman Brandt, director of the Graduate Landscape Architecture Program at the City College of New York. “Trees create shade. So you don’t have sun hitting the pavement and creating a heat island effect. And mature trees have a big impact on carbon storage.”

The Million Trees NYC campaign in New York was supposed to take 10 years, but the initiative finished two years ahead of schedule, despite two fierce storms, Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, that created months of cleanup work for tree crews.

Mitchell J. Silver, commissioner of the parks department and past president of the American Planning Association, said that the tree campaign had put New York City on the map worldwide.

“New York is the leader internationally when it comes to the urban forest,” he said, noting that both the city and the United States Forest Service had studied trees in the city before and during the planting program.

From the outset, City Hall formed a partnership with the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit group founded by the singer and actress Bette Midler to restore parkland and community gardens in low-income neighborhoods. The group raised $30 million toward the effort and focused its planting on publicly accessible private lands, including cemeteries, college campuses, hospitals and apartment buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority.

Of the million new trees, the Bronx received 280,000; Brooklyn, 185,000; Manhattan, 75,000; Queens, 285,000, and Staten Island, 175,000. With the help of tens of thousands of volunteers, the parks department planted 750,000 of the million trees, with 155,000 of those going to streets and the rest in parkland. The planting of the remaining 250,000 was overseen by New York Restoration Project, in conjunction with private businesses and institutions.

“We partnered with community-based organizations like the Boy Scouts or business improvement districts and told people that we’d be in a certain parking lot on a Saturday with 200 trees,” said Deborah Marton, the group’s executive director. “It turns out that if you plant a tree yourself you are more likely to take care of it. The tree giveaways locked in the idea of stewardship.”

City officials said they did their homework to insure that the newly planted trees reached maturity. On sidewalks, they made tree pits bigger so more rainwater would reach the roots. They also enlisted block associations and individual volunteers to water trees during heat waves, remove trash from the tree beds and install tree guards to keep dogs out.

In addition, arborists went out to blocks in advance to study the conditions and determine the best mix of tree species. And the city avoided the past practice of planting an entire row of one kind of tree – the reason there are so many Maple Avenues across the country – to avoid a whole block succumbing to a disease or blight.

A half-dozen low-income neighborhoods with particularly poor tree canopy cover were targeted for block plantings. They were also chosen for their high asthma rates, and their dense, fast-growing populations. These neighborhoods included Morrisania and Hunts Point in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, East Harlem in Manhattan, Far Rockaway in Queens, and Stapleton on Staten Island.

If there was one criticism by residents during the campaign, it was that the city cannot adequately care for its existing tree stock, so why would it plant a million more? In recent years, there have been high-profile cases of people being injured or killed by falling tree limbs in parks and on sidewalks.

City lawmakers have kept the pressure on the de Blasio administration to bolster the tree care budget. The current city budget allotted $6.1 million to tree care, more than four times the amount allocated in 2012.

“The campaign to plant a million trees has been wildly successful,” said Councilman Mark D. Levine, the chairman of the parks committee. “Now we need to follow it up with a campaign titled, ”˜Love a Tree,’ where New Yorkers step up to be stewards of trees on their block and the city puts in the resources needed to help these trees thrive in a very harsh urban environment.”

Liam Kavanagh, the parks department’s first deputy commissioner, pointed out that once the lacebark elm in the South Bronx matured, it would shade a lawn bordering a path. “We wanted to have a tree suited to the occasion,” he said, “and this tree will fill the bill.”

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