By Ian Leahy
THERE ARE TIMES when, by fortune and fortitude, a single project embodies what American Forests seeks to achieve in cities — which begins with creating partnerships, includes funding to implement science-based plans and policies, and culminates in expanding tree cover within communities that have the fewest trees. Such was the case one Wednesday morning in Delaware last year.
More than 60 people in the mid-sized city of Wilmington were in an all-hands- on-deck fight to save lives. They were planting trees— fruit trees and other species — in a public park. Their hope was that the trees would cool the city, support career training and more. It was hard work, but much needed in Wilmington, where trees cover only 20 percent of the city and are decreasing in number as temperatures rise.
One of those leading this charge was Herbert White, urban forest administrator for Wilmington, who understands that trees are beneficial from an economic, environmental and aesthetic standpoint. Through White and his staff, the city is putting money and expertise behind this important acknowledgment.
But they can’t do it alone. A successful urban forestry program requires a strong anchor institution that can advocate, engage diverse communities, plant trees across property owner- ships, and attract diverse funding, according to the urban forestry toolkit on VibrantCitiesLab.com. In Wilmington and beyond, the Delaware Center for Horticulture fulfills this role.
Participants in the center’s Branches to Chances program were at the event in full force, training leaders and offering tips to the volunteer tree planters. The 10-year-old program is one of Delaware’s only green jobs training programs for unemployed, underemployed and previously incarcerated men and women. Graduates finish the program with market- able skills in a growing industry, the satisfaction of improving the communities they come from, and essential employer references. The program helps address a need in the city to create jobs, particularly in neighborhoods of color, where unemployment rates tend to be higher.
None of this would have happened without corporate support. Step- ping up to the challenge and helping to make the day a success was JPMorgan Chase, whose Card Services division is headquartered in Wilmington. Not only did the company contribute funding to buy the trees, but about 50 of their employees came out into their community to volunteer at the planting.
The bustle also attracted a number of nearby residents who joined the effort to improve their neighborhood.
It’s this type of cross-sector collaboration that makes urban forestry unique. Unlike other basic city infrastructure, such as bridges and streetlights, everyone can literally have a hand in expanding tree cover in a city and, in turn, growing a community.
Ian Leahy writes from Washington, D.C., and is American Forests’ vice president of urban forestry.