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Chicago planted 18,000 trees this year, with 33% going to areas with the greatest need, officials say – Chicago Tribune

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Something was missing in North Lawndale. As Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick walked down the street, it was hard to tell exactly what it was, but when she visited another part of town, it became clear.

“It’s the tree canopy that matters,” she said. “It is beautiful, green, fresh, bright.”

With only 10.7% of the land shaded by trees, some neighborhoods are completely bare. The average for the city is 16%. From 2011 to 2021, the area planted an average of 4.1 new trees per street mile, accounting for one-seventh of the tree planting in the North Side’s Edgewater neighborhood.

But this year, the city planted 957 trees in North Lawndale, the most of any neighborhood, according to city data.

“It’s going to make a difference to this community,” Fitzpatrick said.

In the first year of Our roots are Chicagoof the city’s tree canopy injustice program, 33% of the trees planted went to 11 priority areas, including North Lawndale.

City exceeded the task and planted 18 thousand trees, but this year has been one of addressing operational challenges, addressing a three-year backlog of 311 requests and recruiting tree ambassadors to protect trees in priority areas, city spokeswoman Mimi Simon said.

“We will continue this momentum for a second year and are confident in our ability to promote a more equitable tree canopy for all,” Simon said in an email.

Throughout the 2010s, Chicago’s tree canopy has been declining, a rate that has not caught up with other major cities. And during that backlog, the city planted significantly fewer trees in areas to the south and west, according to the report Chicago Tribune investigation.

Research shows that fewer trees in a neighborhood could mean stronger effects of climate change, leading to higher temperatures, more flooding and dirtier air.

As part of Our Roots, certain areas have been identified as priority areas for tree planting as the city seeks to expand its overall coverage of the area. But planting is just one part of ensuring the benefits of trees for all Chicagoans, said Michael Dugan, director of forestry at Openlands, an organization that advocates for tree protection.

He said the creation of the Urban Forestry Advisory Board, approved by the City Council last year, is another promising first step. This council is responsible for recommending tree canopy policy and developing the city’s management plan.

“We need everyone on board,” Dugan said.

Here is the number of trees planted in other 10 priority areas of the city:

  • 553 in Back of the Yards/New City
  • 460 at Greater Grand Crossing
  • 394 in McKinley Park
  • 87 on Broni Square
  • 462 in Austin
  • 529 in Little Village/South Lawndale
  • 257 in East Garfield Park
  • 393 in Brighton Park
  • 695 in Humboldt Park
  • 435 in the Near West Side

A total of 5,222 trees were planted in these neighborhoods, with nearly 16,000 planted by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Department of Transportation.

Half a million urban street trees, often found in the grass strips between roadways and sidewalks, make up part of the total canopy cover, as well as trees in parks and yards.

The Chicago Park District also planted trees this year, which was counted at 18,000 in total, but was not counted in the city’s neighborhood breakdown because those trees were planted in parks.

Seven-D Construction Co. landscaper.  waters a tree after several were planted along the 3400 block of West Pershing Road in Chicago on October 20, 2022.

According to slides prepared for a task force that helps set goals for the Our Roots program, the nearly 16,000 trees planted in public parks this year are up from 10,000 last year. Between 2016 and 2020, an average of about 6,000 trees per year were planted on park avenues.

Pilot programs for tree ambassadors were launched in Little Village and North Lawndale, where volunteers were taught how to advocate for trees and make 311 requests for suitable planting sites. This request has been given priority. Since the first tree ambassador training in June, the city has received 380 requests for 416 trees through the program, some of which are slated to be planted in the spring.

Kimberly George, Community Asset Manager for the Young People’s Education Network and Tree Ambassador, describes these trees as an investment in her community. In one of the gardens where she works, there are two pear trees planted several dozen years ago by previous managers. Now the community is reaping the fruits of these trees. The new saplings appear in the neighborhood it’s a way to pay it forward, she said.

“One day young people will have shade because of the small work I did and the tree ambassadors do,” she said.

Risa Prezzano, who works with Openlands and is a tree ambassador, said planting these trees is the first step towards closing the disparity. She hopes to see next year’s numbers on the survival of the trees planted as part of the program.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Prezzano said. “I think it’s just a matter of keeping it going.”

Part of maintaining momentum requires sound canopy planning, Dugan said. The Urban Forestry Advisory Board is part of creating a “common purpose” with a “common voice,” he said.

Daniela Pereira, vice president of community conservation at Openlands, was recently nominated to the board.

“Having a council that takes strategic care of Chicago’s tree canopy makes the city stronger and more resilient by investing in natural climate solutions and improving the health and well-being of communities throughout Chicago,” Pereira said in an Openlands statement.

In North Lawndale, caring for new trees, like newborn babies, “will take a village,” Fitzpatrick said. But she believes that getting everyone involved can change the trajectory of community development. She hopes the tree program will be a catalyst for future programs aimed at making the neighborhood “thriving” by being bright and healthy.

“And what better way to do that than to grow trees?” she said.

mellis@chicagotribune.com

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