Every Last One


This NYT article, which ran on July 6th heralds good news for New York City’s street trees and the residents those trees shade.

According to the Times, the City has more than doubled its’ tree maintenance budget for the coming fiscal year. Times reporters claimed to have “revealed an uneven system of inspections and an overstretched budget for tree maintenance” in connection with reporting on a series of incidents involving lawsuits by citizens who suffered bodily harm from falling tree limbs due to negligence in tree maintenance by the City.

When TreeKIT is out in the field, the #1 issue that residents who we encounter quiz us about is City street tree maintenance. The questions range from how to get it accomplished, concern for bodily and property harm. But touchingly and most often, these residents express concern for the safety of their neighbors strolling down their block, all the while enjoying the shade and beauty that street trees in a well-maintained city can provide.

Something that these articles don’t address is what we at TreeKIT are seeing out in the field, which is that specifically trees in economically depressed neighborhoods get even less attention and maintenance than their brethren in places like Central Park and fashionable parts of town. While MillionTrees NYC has recently planted more trees on forgotten streets in many neighborhoods, the watering and pruning and treepit maintenance (so necessary for young trees newly planted) is obviously not as consistent or as complete as trees on main thoroughfares and more lively commercial areas.

Is this a function of pressure on the City from business improvement districts leaving less City maintenance money for trees on far-flung streets? Who’s lobbying for ALL of the street trees? What are your thoughts on this topic.

Report from the Field

April 28th and 29th were our first mapping outings of the season. Starting on a chilly Saturday in Astoria Queens we finishing up a few far-flung streets that were not completed last autumn. It was with a sense of satisfaction that we were able to complete the mapping of this neighborhood, one of the liveliest and most culturally diverse in the world. The range of languages spoken in this part of Queens is the highest of any neighborhood in New York City, numbering over 200 in the last Census.

As we always do when mapping, we say hello to folks whom we encounter on the sidewalks as we and our keen volunteers are taking measurements of the pits, running our measuring wheels on the curbs and then hugging the trees with tailor’s tapes to get the caliper of the trunk. Often people ask us what we are doing and take an interest or make a point of showing their children what we are up to.

One of the many aspects of TreeKIT that excite our volunteer corps and keep them coming back year after year is our focus on tree identification. Those keen to branch out beyond common names will often begin to learn the botanical Latin names of trees we map by referring to the NYCDPR Street Tree Identification sheet and it’s system of Latin name abbreviations. This always sparks a conversation about Latin roots and meanings, and what an elegant and logical system of nomenclature it continues to be.

We were thrilled to map many new trees planted in new pits and mostly with Million Trees tags. However, on several Million Trees tags we saw trees labeled with cultivar names developed by agribusinesses, and some tags had cultivar names only. A strong argument could be made to label trees with botanical Latin, especially given that Latin is certainly a more commonly understood language in such a culturally diverse neighborhood. The point of a tree-tag is to identify the tree, but when it’s a cultivar (brand) name and not a scientific name, it weakens the educational aspect of a civic tree-tagging program and smacks of corporate influence. We’d love to hear other’s thoughts on this topic.

After participating in the Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Task Force last week, we’ve been thinking a lot about the connections between TreeKIT projects and other urban forestry initiatives throughout the country. One link that keeps coming up involves research and scholarship around urban ecosystems.

As a “citizen” or “street” science project, we aim to develop methods of collecting data on the urban forest that reflect ideas and insights in cutting-edge urban ecosystem research. So we’re very pleased to have come across this passage in a groundbreaking 2008 journal article on “community-based urban land management” by Erika Svendsen and Lindsay Campbell of the US Forest Service :

“…there remains a great deal of work to be done in the coordination of urban ecosystem management. This is not to suggest that all management in cities should be centralized, but [our] findings suggest the need to recognize and harness the degree of diversity, autonomy and effectiveness among public and private sector stewardship regimes.”

TreeKIT’s approach to measuring, mapping, and managing the urban forest draws deep inspiration from research projects like this one. Our aim is to develop an interactive, web-based map of street trees in New York City that helps volunteers, non-profits, and government agencies coordinate and collaborate without a central authority managing their work.

Interested in learning more? Send us your information and let us know if you’d be interested in mapping street trees in NYC this summer. We’ll need your help to build the kinds of maps we’re dreaming of!