By Joseph Ostapiuk | Staten Island Advance
The city’s tree canopy, a sprawling and valuable resource that helps reduce dangerous effects spurred by insidiously rising temperatures, has been growing in recent years. A bipartisan group of city leaders hope that trend continues.
New York City’s five borough presidents called on Mayor Eric Adams Monday to adopt a plan to plant one million trees citywide over the course of the next decade — reminiscent of a successful initiative that was started under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and completed during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
They also called on Adams to honor a pledge he made during his campaign promise to allocate 1% of the city’s budget to funding the Parks Department, representing a significant increase of the agency’s allocation.
“This is our moment to go big and bold, to expand the canopy in this city,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine during a press conference Monday morning in City Hall Park. “Climate change, resiliency, public health, public safety — all of it is driven by a healthy and strong urban forest.”
The push by all five borough presidents, a group that includes Republican Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, marks a notable bipartisan effort to combat the effects of climate change. The five borough leaders exchange group texts, they said, and plan to continue to work together to find common ground.
“Clearly, there are many challenges facing our city. Among them are public safety, helping small businesses rebound from COVID and helping our schools open. However, we need to plan ahead and visualize a brighter future,” said Fossella, who attended the inaugural launch of the SSG Michael Ollis boat Monday morning, in a statement.
“An important part of that plan is to increase our street trees. When we look to the skies, New Yorkers want to see more than concrete and glass, we also want to see trees overhead. As Borough President of Staten Island, ‘the Borough of Parks,’ I pledge to work with my fellow Borough Presidents and the Mayor and City Council on any practical effort for tree planting management city-wide,” said Fossella.
“The plan should follow the Parks Department’s philosophy of planting the right tree in the right location. We’d like to see the appropriate smaller tree species on streets with utility poles, and a program to remove dead or dying trees and quickly replace them. I see this effort as both an environmental and public health priority,” added Fossella. “When it comes to finding innovative ways to manage our city’s tree canopy, we should leave no stump unturned.”
BENEFITS OF TREES
Trees offer innumerable benefits, from cooling streets and reducing pollution to absorbing rainwater and improving mental health, and experts said the city’s urban forest helps avoid nearly 17,000 health events every year — translating to more than $77 million in savings annually.
The new plan is aimed at improving equity in the distribution of trees throughout the city, working towards a disparity present in the current distribution of tree canopy.
Late last year, a report by The Nature Conservancy, entitled “The State of the Urban Forest in NYC,” looked at the seven million trees spread across the five boroughs, including those on private land, and observed notable disparities in canopy cover based on factors like race, English proficiency and housing crowding.
Staten Island’s South Shore was found to have higher “stocking rates,” a measure of the percentage of living trees of an estimated capacity, compared to the borough’s North Shore, the Advance/SILive.com previously reported. Similar discrepancies were observed in Brooklyn and Queens.
Areas with lower stocking rates were associated with higher levels of social and heat vulnerability, the report found. City Health Department data shows approximately 350 people die yearly, on average, from heat-exacerbated issues, with that mortality rate higher in neighborhoods with a greater proportion of Black New Yorkers.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson stressed the importance of equity in the plan to plant the city’s next million trees, citing the stark differences in tree distribution in various neighborhoods throughout New York City.
“This program has the ability to save lives,” said Gibson, who noted the importance of increasing the Parks Departments’ budget to enable the agency to properly maintain the city’s urban forest.
Despite the previous program’s success, officials said difficulties, including getting the support of private land owners, will still confront the new plan, which would be led by the Parks Department. Approximately a quarter of the million trees would ideally be planted on private land, said Levine.
“Parks are more than places for recreation and enjoyment — they are powerful tools for equity and community,” said a City Hall spokeswoman, in response to the push for a million new tree plantings. “The mayor is committed to the Percent for Parks pledge, and his team is exploring innovative ways to invest in quality green spaces for all New Yorkers.”
SUPPORTING THE CALL FOR MORE TREES
A broad coalition of dozens of nature organizations supported the call for a million more trees. Emily Nobel Maxwell, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Cities Program in New York, said the new program will be a pivotal piece in the movement to address extreme heat and flooding, which are effects of climate change slated to intensify in the coming decades.
“Planting, protecting and maintaining trees across our city, in our backyards, our businesses, our institutions, NYCHA, schools and also streets, parks, forests and natural areas is truly critical to the success of this initiative,” said Nobel Maxwell. “And it must be done uplifting community priorities with community leadership.”
Trees are also proficient at removing harmful pollutants from the air, and increasing the number of trees would further work to improve the city’s air quality.
Car emissions alone were found to be a contributing factor to more than 2,000 deaths in 2016, a Harvard study determined, and Staten Island’s harmful ozone pollution has been previously highlighted by the Advance/SILive.com as a dangerous precursor to the COVID-19 pandemic that exposed the dangers of underlying respiratory issues.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows North Shore neighborhoods have higher asthma and high blood pressure rates compared to the South Shore.
‘AN ISSUE OF PUBLIC HEALTH’
“It’s an issue of public health, it’s an issue of public safety,” said Shekar Krishnan, chair of the city council’s committee on parks and recreation. “Part of the issue is shifting our perspective on these issues. The pandemic didn’t create these inequities, but it exacerbated them for everyone to see.”
Climate change is expected to worsen the intensity of storms that inundate New York City with significant amounts of rainfall.
Trees play a vital role in working with the city’s infrastructure by absorbing rainwater, mitigating flooding issues that subsequently follow intense precipitation. Those same events, however, alongside rising tides and heat, pose threats to the existing urban forest.
Conservationists have said any plans to plant new trees should take those effects into consideration, including making choices that include properly selecting trees that can withstand rising temperatures and adverse weather events.
How to tackle the next million trees, officials said, can already be drawn from the various reports — including the urban forest study. “We know the problem, we just have to start putting trees in the ground,” said Levine.
Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso was concise in the next steps for the plan: “Let’s just get it done.”
Original story here.