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Advocates: NYC Tree Canopy Must Be Equitably Distributed


Tuesday, June 28, 2022   

With a historic budget for parks and recreation, New York City is crafting strategic plans to increase tree canopy through an environmental justice lens.

New York City's $624 million parks budget includes funding for capital projects such as planting 20,000 new trees. City Council recently held an oversight hearing on increasing tree canopy, which gave residents the chance to provide input on shade access in their community.

Council Member representing Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, Shekar Krishnan - who chairs the Committee on Parks and Recreation - said the hearing can inform solutions to addressing disparities of tree presence in different neighborhoods.

"In particular, low-income communities of color have far less tree-canopy coverage than other neighborhoods do," said Krishnan, "and that directly results in hotter temperatures known as the 'urban heat island' effect. And so the brunt of the lack of tree-canopy coverage isn't shared equally."

The budget also includes funding for stump removal, which can make way for new trees. A report from The Nature Conservancy found that as of 2017, the city's overall tree canopy was about 22%.

Victoria Sanders - research analyst with the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance - said as New York City moves forward with plans for improving tree-canopy equity across the city, communities that have long been disinvested due to racially discriminatory policies such as redlining must be prioritized.

"There's all this red tape that impacts the way funds can be used," said Sanders. "A lot of the trees that are being planted are replacing trees that already exist. So I think there needs to be maybe some pushback so that a larger amount of the money can be put toward making sure there's equitable tree distribution."

Emily Nobel Maxwell - New York Cities program director for The Nature Conservancy - said she's excited by the budget investments in urban forests, but said there's more work to be done.

"We know that to better ameliorate the impacts of extreme heat, we need more tree canopy," said Maxwell. "It would mean protecting and maintaining the canopy we have. And that requires maintenance funding, laws to protect our canopy, it requires enforcement."

The Forest For All NYC coalition has called for a citywide goal of 30% tree coverage by 2035.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in New York - Long Island contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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