How planting trees can help achieve equality in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "You know, everyone looks to have an impact on the world," said Tim Ifill. "When you're planting trees, it's so visible and concrete. You can walk down a street where you've had a planting and see how those trees have grown."

One of those success stories is in Hunting Park. Young blooming trees dress Cayuga Street with vibrant colors as they wait to grow tall.

"Relieving stress, cooling in the summer, health benefits, even reducing crime, there's just reams and reams of evidence that show all these benefits for community so that's why we invest in trees," said Ifill, who is the Associate Director of Trees with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

PHS is one of the partners working closely with the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department to bring change to areas like this.

"Certain neighborhoods of the city have up to 50% tree canopy and that's great for that neighborhood, but then there's other neighborhoods which, you know, tend to correspond to lower-income neighborhoods, higher crime neighborhoods," said Ifill. "For the most part, they have as little as 5% canopy coverage."

For the same reason that trees have caused inequity, they can also solve it.

"The tree canopy in the city is not equally distributed and it's not focused in places where people live," said Erica Smith Fichman, Community Forestry Manager with Parks and Recreation. "This problem is why we are doing the Philly Tree Plan."

The 10-year plan involves reassessing the processes with which trees are chosen, located, or perhaps replaced. This strategy is focused more on the location and impact of these plants as opposed to the sheer quantity.

"Some neighborhoods in the city can be up to 22 degrees hotter than others," said Fichman. "And Hunting Park is one of those neighborhoods."

Throughout Hunting Park, individuals and families can be seen relaxing on their front steps. For the Scott family, it was the pink fluffy flowering plant on the sidewalk that brightened their day.

"Waking up, coming outside to get a fresh breath of air, people wouldn't be so angry at each other," said Nasir Scott. "You're going to wake up feeling blessed and being thankful to see another day."

However, with each passing day, the threat of losing more tree canopy grows.

"Unfortunately we have lost 6% of our tree canopy across the city," said Fichman about a study conducted from 2008 to 2018. "So, in another 10 years, we hope to see a more equitable tree canopy distributed across the city, and we hope to see the trees that are here now still here, but bigger."

To get involved, the first step residents can take is visiting the online hub. There, they can contribute to a survey, take a virtual open house tour, and enter a photo contest.

Other ongoing projects in the Philadelphia area include the TreePhilly program, PHS Tree Tenders, the Love Your Park program, the Forest Stewards program, and more.

To learn more about the Philly Tree Plan, visit their website.

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