This past Memorial Day weekend I visited my parents in Virginia. I live in Brooklyn, and their suburb of Washington, DC feels like being out in the country. It’s quiet, and no matter which window you look out of in their home, all you see are trees. It was so soothing that I practically slept all weekend, which is something I never do in the fast-paced world of New York. Needless to say the weekend was therapeutic, and eye-opening. Trees have restorative power, I thought. According to MillionTreesNYC, they do.
Yesterday Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Restoration Project, a beloved community-driven nonprofit founded by Bette Midler, announced that the world’s most famous concrete jungle will have one million new trees planted by 2015, two years ahead of schedule in their original timeline.
Remarkably, this is despite Hurricane Sandy, which felled an estimated 20,000 trees throughout the five boroughs. In Brooklyn’s McCarren Park on Wednesday, media personality Geraldo Rivera, a native son of Williamsburg, planted a twin replacement for “Geraldo,” the 40-foot Blue Spruce famous among north Brooklyn residents. The original, paid for by Rivera ten years ago, had been uprooted by Sandy. “Geraldo II” was the 745,236th tree to be planted since 2004, when the MillionTreesNYC initiative first began. It plans to increase the urban forest enjoyed by New Yorkers and the tens of millions of tourists who visit every year by 20-percent.
Now those living in lusciously green environments might wonder, what’s the big deal? Trees, so what? In addition to the air-cleaning service they provide, trees also play a factor in helping reduce violence in urban neighborhoods. According to the Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit, Tree People, “Neighborhoods and homes that are barren have shown to have a greater incidence of violence in and out of the home than their greener counterparts. Trees and landscaping help to reduce the level of fear.” And they also help the economy by increasing property value by 15-percent, and commerce areas with many trees and landscaping around stores see an increase in business, according to studies.
Having moved out of a barren block in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the lush canopies of Park Slope, Brooklyn, I feel more relaxed and safer than I did before. Coming home one night to my last apartment, I heard gun shots go off just down the street and read in The New York Times the next day that three people had been shot. Knock on tree that my new neighborhood stays safe. According to these studies about the benefits of a significant number of trees in one area, it will.
It’s now widely known that the more affluent the neighborhood, the more trees it has. That’s why the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) targets low-income areas for their tree-planting and community garden projects. In October 2009, it opened a beautifully landscaped public garden in the South Bronx, blocks away from Yankee Stadium, complete with blooming small farming plots for local neighbors to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, and for the students in the public school across the street to study. Last night’s NYRP’s annual spring picnic at Gracie Mansion raised $1.1 million to continue greening New York’s most barren and high-need neighborhoods, and to stay on track to planting 1 million trees by 2015.
So if you’re lucky enough to live around trees, now that you know the many life-enhancing benefits they give you, isn’t it time you hugged a tree?
Image Credit: DumboNYC/Flickr