If you’ve ever basked in the cool shade of a tree on an insufferably hot summer day, you know how essential those leafy branches are to urban life. But if you look around in Bed-Stuy, you’ll notice that entire swaths of our neighborhood are tree-less.
Trees do more than add beauty to our neighborhood and protect us from the glaring sun. They also remove dangerous carbon dioxide gases – which contribute to global warming by creating a “greenhouse effect” in our atmosphere - from the air. One tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Furthermore, trees help to reduce the air temperature in dense urban areas, according to Andrew Newman, a project coordinator for the city’s MillionTreesNYC campaign.
The MillionTreesNYC campaign has planted over 900 street trees in Bed-Stuy. You can tell which ones they are because they’re young, supported by a stake, and often adorned with a little “MillionTreesNYC” tag.
The campaign works at the community level, engaging individuals and organizations in making their neighborhoods more beautiful and sustainable by planting trees. They hold workshops where participants learn how to plant and care for a tree, and what the benefits are of doing so. Individuals can also become “tree stewards” by “adopting” a tree in their neighborhood and committing to watering, weeding and mulching newly planted street trees.
“Trees provide economic, aesthetic, and health benefits,” explained Newman. “There’s this thing called the ‘urban heat island effect,’ when sunlight on pavement increases the air temperature. Trees help with that by providing shade. And in the winter, they block strong winds and provide insulation for buildings.”
Furthermore, trees can be part of what’s called “green infrastructure,” meaning that they add to the overall sustainability of a city. For example, Newman explained that trees absorb stormwater with their roots. This benefit is important because NYC’s water system cannot handle massive water intake and, as a result, raw sewage is released into bodies of water like the Gowanus Canal – which you can see in this YouTube video.
Trees also create a natural habitat for birds, which liven up our daily lives with their cheerful chirpings, and squirrels – which are almost as much a hallmark of urban Brooklyn life as pigeons are in Manhattan.
In April 2009, the New York Restoration Project, working with MillionTreesNYC, planted 28 trees at the Eleanor Roosevelt Houses at the intersection of Dekalb and Lewis Avenues.
Organizations or individuals interested in being caretakers or planters of trees can request a workshop or sign up to become stewards by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, going to the MillionTreesNYC website, or calling 311. Their site also has a Community Calendar that advertises upcoming workshops and events all over the city.
More trees equals cleaner air, prettier sidewalks, more sustainable city infrastructure, and shade to relax under on a hot summer day. Sounds like a good deal.