— Nan Sterman
I love to walk down a tree-lined street with a big overhead canopy. The air feels cool and smells good. There are lots of people on the street and they all smile as they walk past. Cars go by a little slower, surely because their drivers enjoy the experience, too.
We love trees but we take them for granted. It’s great if they are there and if they aren’t… well, that’s just how it is. But that is changing. In towns and cities across the country a small army of people are at work, promoting, planting, and maintaining “urban forests.”
Beyond their shade, trees – along with all other plants – produce the oxygen we breathe. They filter the air and cool the atmosphere. They collect rainwater to prevent flooding. Trees make neighborhoods safer, more walkable, and help create a sense of community. Trees and landscape are invaluable components of our communities, as we see in this week’s episode of A Growing Passion.
Urban Forests: Pioneers
We start in Los Angeles where I introduce you to my long-time friend Andy Lipkis. Andy founded the non-profit TreePeople when he was a teenager. At the time LA smog was so thick that children had trouble breathing and trees were dying from pollution. Today, Andy is a world-renowned leader in urban forestry and the originator of “citizen forestry.” TreePeople trains children, teens, and adults to plant and care for trees in their neighborhoods. Andy tells us why trees are important and describes their role in urban and suburban communities.
Government and Agencies
In San Diego, we meet with Lynnette Short of CalFire. You may think of CalFire as the agency that puts out forest fires but CalFire also helps cities develop and manage urban forests. Lynette brought a map to show me the tree cover across the county. We compared today’s tree canopy with the historical tree canopy to see how much has been lost, which communities are tree-rich and which tree-poor. It was very telling.
I headed to San Diego’s most disadvantaged neighborhood to meet City Councilman David Alvarez whose district includes that neighborhood. Alvarez’ goal is to plant 500 street trees over the next several years. You’ll hear Alvarez explain what the community stands to gain from those trees.
Later that day, I walked the neighborhood with scientist Puja Batra whose specialty is using nature to create resilient, livable cities, especially in light of global warming. We used an infrared thermometer to compare the surface temperatures of concrete, asphalt, artificial turf, and the soil under the shade of a tree. The differences are profound (you won’t believe how hot the artificial turf gets, even on a cool spring day) and dramatic examples of why trees are one of the best weapons to combat global warming.
In fun and funky Ocean Beach, I meet a group of community members who were drawn together when city cut down beloved heritage street trees. The women created a process for residents to identify heritage trees and protect them. Today their group, Save Peninsula Trees, is a model for other communities as well.
And finally, we join the Girl Scouts and high school volunteers in Chula Vista to see citizen forestry in action, supported by the non-profit Tree San Diego. These young people are taking an active role in protecting their future – and ours – by planting trees.