Trees of life

Grant funds effort to restore urban forest
By Sonia Smith
Baton Rouge, LA (March 30, 2008)- Around 70 volunteers brightened up the landscape at a new, mixed-income housing development in Old South Baton Rouge on Saturday morning, planting 80 trees as a light rain fell. The 14 affordable single-family homes of the RiverSouth HOPE VI development – Helping Out People Everywhere- will be shaded by the trees planted in their front and back yards. Baton Rouge Green, a community organization that has planted more than 28,000 trees in its 20-year history, received a $20,000 grant for its NeighborWoods program, dedicated to renewing the urban forest.

The planting was the third NeighborWoods planting of the year around the city, said Diane Losavio, executive director of Baton Rouge Green. Jared Liu, director of programs at the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Community Trees that oversees the NeighborWoods program, was on hand to help with planting and to discuss the connections between affordable housing and trees.
Liu said a landscape plan had been developed to place the right trees in the right places around the houses. A tree that provides ample shade planted close to a home can cool it down in warm weather, reducing energy costs, he said. “And shaded homes will sell faster,” he added.
Losavio said volunteers planted a mixture of nuttall oaks, willow oaks, sweet olives, magnolias, red maples and crape myrtles around the houses on East Polk Street.
Residents are scheduled to move into the houses within the next few months, said Richard Murray, director of the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority. Four of the 14 houses will be rented to tenants, Murray said. The other houses will be put on the market to sell at prices ranging from $79,000 to $99,000.
Rose Netter, 62, who will be moving into a house on the corner of Polk and Kansas streets, came out to watch the planting Saturday. “I’m very emotional,” Netter said. “I’m just so moved to see all the people that are helping.” A first-time homeowner, Netter currently lives in her mother’s house, down the street from the development. She will be moving into her new house with her daughter and granddaughter, she said.
Kristina McCray, 21, volunteered Saturday with other members of Delta Sigma Theta, a public service sorority at LSU. “I never knew how to plant trees before,” she said as she spread mulch over the base of a red maple. “And it’s helping the community.” There were some veteran planters in the crowd, such as 17-year-old Malavika Balachandran.
Picture by Travis Spradling/The Advocate
Stephen Shurtz, left, a urban forestry and landscape manager with the city-parish Department of Public Works, helps LSU Delta Sigma Theta sorority members Courtney Boss, center, and Kasielynn Smith, right, as they tug a tree out of its pot before placing it into a pre-dug hole.

The McKinley High School senior has helped out with many plantings since starting an environmental club at her school. Wearing green gloves, she and her sister, Devika Balachandran, 15, prepared the hole for the tree, breaking up clumps of clay with spades. “We didn’t have to dig the holes today,” Malavika said thankfully. “That takes a really long time.”
Related Resources:
The Advocate
East Polk NeighborWoods Tree Planting
Baton Rouge Green
Solutions for Trees