By Lincoln Restler and Emily Nobel Maxwell
New Yorkers love their trees and appreciate the true value of their presence. Trees unite us in the places we gather, provide shade to keep our children cool when they play, and improve our overall well-being by reducing stress.
Last fall, we witnessed the enthusiasm for trees when more than 1,000 New Yorkers turned out for the inaugural City of Forest Day presented by Forest for All NYC, the city Parks Department, and Parks and Open Space Partners – NYC. The more than 50 free tree care and appreciation events held across all five boroughs, including multiple great events in the neighborhoods that comprise the 33rd Council District, served as an inspiring demonstration of New Yorkers’ love for their urban forest and highlighted the tremendous opportunity for tree stewardship and care across the city.
Trees have always been an invaluable resource for New Yorkers. Once planted, trees are an appreciating asset, unlike any other infrastructure. Their benefits, and value, literally increase as they grow in size. Additionally, trees play a critical role in countering the climate crisis by cleaning our air, lowering average temperatures to reduce the impacts of extreme heat events, and capturing stormwater runoff to help minimize flooding.
So, how can New Yorkers get involved in the care and maintenance that our tree canopy needs to grow and thrive, and to help our communities do so in turn?
It starts with creative leadership, community buy-in, and neighbors coming together to protect their investment.
City Council District 33 includes Brooklyn neighborhoods along the East River from Greenpoint to Gowanus. Recognizing that trees are one of the best solutions to the climate crisis, the community and Council office decided it was time to invest in the neighborhood’s street trees and came together with an innovative, comprehensive plan to get it done. In partnership with NYC Parks and non-profit partners, there will be 3,400 new street trees in every viable tree bed in the district over the next four years.
Stewardship is a major component of the plan, including mobilizing residents to care for and maintain newly planted and existing trees. Training courses to certify new Citizen Pruners and tree bed maintenance events are happening across the community to empower residents to do more to keep trees healthy.
Similarly, the outpouring of support for the inaugural City of Forest Day demonstrated the broad and diverse interest New Yorkers across different communities have in supporting their urban forest. We must harness the tremendous opportunity for tree stewardship, further empower organizations already supporting local communities, and expand those efforts into every neighborhood across the city.
All 51 City Council districts can partner with the city Parks Department to develop their own street tree planting goals, enhancing quality of life and improving community safety in the face of extreme weather and hotter temperatures. While this partnership and planning for street trees is crucial, we must also work with other city agencies, institutions, businesses, and property owners to create a more extensive, more equitable urban forest for the city overall.
Forest for All NYC has set a goal to increase tree canopy across New York City to at least 30% by 2035 — up from 22% (from last available data in 2017). In order to reach tree capacity across districts, expanded citywide funding is necessary and cost efficiencies on tree planting would be immensely helpful. But climate change won’t wait, so creative solutions for funding like the District 33 Street Tree Plan are desperately needed.
In New York City, the well-being of our 8-plus million residents and its more than 7 million trees are intrinsically linked. The promise of District 33′s Street Tree Plan and the success of City of Forest Day and other initiatives demonstrates the passion New Yorkers have for their trees.
We owe it to future generations to plant and take care of as many trees as we can and protect their health and growth to ensure all communities benefit from an expansive and thriving tree canopy.
There’s no greater investment!
Restler represents the 33rd Council District and is co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Maxwell is the New York cities director for The Nature Conservancy, which is the convenor and a leading member of Forest for All NYC.
Original op-ed here.