Tree plantings enrich city neighborhoods

By Eric T. Campbell
Detroit, MI (March 13, 2011)- This spring season, with the help of 7,000 volunteers, The Greening of Detroit hopes to double the number of trees it plants in and around Detroit neighborhoods.

Beginning March 26, Greening will sponsor tree plantings every Saturday at 9 a.m. – rain or shine. The goal is 4,000 trees by June 11. “Our city has a widespread enthusiasm for planting trees,” says Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of Greening. “It’s a powerful statement in disadvantaged neighborhoods because plantings signal a long-term investment.” Since its formation in 1989, Greening has contributed to almost every aspect of the city’s growing urban agriculture profile. But planting trees is how the non-profit organization continues to make the biggest impact.
Witt says tree plantings signify increased commitment to underserved communities. All tree plantings are designed and executed in collaboration with local and neighborhood partners. Everyone from small block-clubs to established City District Councils have applied for Greening’s resources through the years, resulting in 62,000 new trees in Detroit. “It’s always a combination of need and opportunity,” Witt said. “We never go to a neighborhood unless we’re invited.”
Greening’s community engagement staff canvasses neighborhoods slated for plantings to ensure a measure of community input, according to Witt. Recipient communities are expected to raise matching funds and provide volunteers for tree plantings in addition to making a commitment to maintain the trees. Maintenance includes proper watering for the crucial first three years of the tree’s life.
Green collaborations in Detroit neighborhoods have included community gardens, pocket parks and small nurseries. In Highland Park, the Beresford Block Club partnered with Greening to replace trees that were lost years ago in a rare tornado that hit the Detroit area. With the blessing of Highland Park officials and Beresford residents, 25 trees were planted last summer.
The results were immediate and the effort provided a temporary community forum, according to Lee Clowny, Beresford Block Club President. At one point Clowny says there were almost 100 volunteers going in and out of her home, including Highland Park youth, recruited by her daughter. “I did the refreshments,” Clowny told the Michigan Citizen. “We were all out there just digging and planting. The trees not only make the houses … but the whole neighborhood look better.” Clowny has since volunteered for another tree planting and says she’ll be out planting trees this summer.
“It’s important that we get that volunteer effort from neighbors,” Witt says. “We want residents to feel like this is their thing. It’s a process of meeting people one-on-one. Every neighborhood has its own flavor.” Greening is attempting to recruit 700 volunteers for each Saturday as the tree planting events continue to forge relationships with community groups. “We feel like we have a real responsibility to make sure that people know about us and the opportunity,” Witt says.
In addition to replenishing trees lost to disease and age, Greening plantings defend against storm water run-off, soil contamination and declining air quality. Detroit neighborhoods also benefit from Greening’s staff of forestry experts. They emphasize planting trees in many different varieties to limit the amount of damage done by diseases, which usually affect specific species. Witt says growing conditions can vary greatly even within the confines of the city.
The trees in the West Village neighborhood have suffered twice from disease-related issues. The majority of the area trees were cut down six years ago due to Elm’s disease. The city replanted with fast-growing Elm trees, which were mostly lost during the Emerald Ash Borer outbreak that affected all of Michigan beginning in 2002. “It changed the complexion of the entire neighborhood,” says Jason Peet, West Village Neighborhood Association boardmember. Peet says the city cut down diseased trees with efficiency, but the cost of any serious replanting effort was too large for the city to bear. Peet and his colleagues prepared an overall tree plan for the 15-square-block area along with Greening’s efforts. In the last five years, they’ve successfully planted a total of 350 trees.
“At a huge benefit to the quality of our neighborhood, Greening has executed something we never could have done,” Peet says. “Right now we’re pretty well reforested. Whether people realize it or not, trees are one of those indicators that affects the buyer.” Most tree plantings have occurred in cluster neighborhoods served by the city’s Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative. Witt says there’s no area of the city that’s been untouched by Greening’s environmental impact. The city’s Departments of Recreation and General Services uses Greening for tree planting in parks and vacant lots and has partnered with the Detroit Public Schools to reforest schoolyards. Greening receives the bulk of its funding from the U.S. Forest Service GLRI and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Its also heavily supported by Chase Bank and DTE Energy, along with a host of foundation, corporate, private and government sponsors.

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The Michigan Citizen- Tree plantings enrich city neighborhoods