Thanks to Bette Midler, New York Plants a Tremendous Number of Trees

Architectural Digest
Thanks to Bette Midler, New York Plants a Tremendous Number of Trees
With a nickname like the Big Apple, is it any surprise that New York has pulled off this botanical feat?
Posted January 21, 2016

NYC Skyline Central Park
NYC Skyline Central Park

One million new trees have been planted in New York City.
Photo: Lisa-Blue/Getty Images

Citywide nonprofit New York Restoration Project (NYRP) has reached its goal of planting one million trees throughout the five boroughs. The program, MillionTreesNYC, was a partnership between the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and NYRP. Founded in 1995 by entertainer Bette Midler, the private organization operates with a mission to improve open spaces within underserved communities. In 2007, Midler was standing with then-mayor Michael Bloomberg along the Harlem River, celebrating NYRP’s planting of 600 cherry and crabapple trees, when she exclaimed, “Why should we stop here? We should plant one million!”


TD Tree Day in The Rockaways, Queens, NY, on September 28, 2013.
TD Tree Day in The Rockaways, Queens, NY, on September 28, 2013.

Volunteers prepare to plant trees.
Photo: Brad Hamilton

And so they did. In just eight short years, NYRP and the Parks Department planted one million trees in every corner of the city. While other cities have undertaken similar initiatives, New York is the first to actually achieve this goal. Codified in 2007’s PlaNYC, MillionTreesNYC tasked the Parks Department with 750,000 new plantings and NYRP with 250,000. Where the city lacked jurisdiction–such as in private yards, churches, cemeteries, and housing projects–NYRP filled the gap. Planting as many as 30,000 trees in a single day, the program ranged from vast reforestation efforts to providing single trees to schoolyards and private outdoor spaces.


Children assist with the project in the Bronx’s Co-op City.
Photo: A. Tan

The program operated intelligently, using public health data to target neighborhoods where trees would make the most significant impact–areas with lower mean income, an unhealthy population, or simply a low percentage of canopy cover as measured by satellite imagery. Between 2007 and 2011 alone, the program planted more than 10,000 trees in East Harlem.

Trees are planted along the Harlem River bike path.
Photo: E. Xie

When asked what unanticipated setbacks were encountered during the program, NYRP executive director Deborah Marton drew a blank: The program finished two years ahead of schedule. She cited a trio of conditions that made the program successful: access to planting in private spaces, a mixture of public and private funding, and committed leadership from not one but two mayoral administrations.
Marton says more trees are in the works: Right now NYRP is working on planting 12,000 of them in Mott Haven, a neighborhood in the South Bronx. All of New York City is still below recommended canopy cover, which is 25 percent to 30 percent, but every tree counts. The benefits of a strong tree population are myriad: cleaner air, healthier citizens, and even lower crime rates.

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