How Tree Planting is Transforming Philadelphia’s Landscape

Imagine a future where Philadelphia is adorned with lush greenery, even amidst its concrete jungle. By 2025, the city aims to cover 30 percent of its land with trees, bringing enormous benefits to its residents and the environment. From purifying the air and storing carbon dioxide to reducing energy costs and mitigating the impact of heavy rains, trees have the power to transform the urban landscape.

Increasing the Canopy: A Greenworks Initiative

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The City of Philadelphia has set an ambitious goal to increase its tree canopy to 30 percent as part of the Greenworks program. However, progress has been slow, with a decline of six percent in tree coverage from 2008 to 2018, according to a study conducted by The City of Philadelphia and the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab. Currently, the city’s tree canopy is averaging about 20 percent, with some neighborhoods having as low as 2.5 percent coverage.

“The big problem is that, for the last several decades at least, we as a city have not been planting enough trees to make up for the trees that naturally die or are lost to development,” says Tim Ifill, Director of Trees at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Planting for a Greener Future

Efforts by organizations like Tree Philly and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) have been invaluable in countering the decline. Tree Philly, launched in 2011, provides free sidewalk and yard trees to building owners who commit to caring for them. So far, over 20,000 trees have been given away. Meanwhile, PHS has been actively working to replenish the canopy through their Tree Tenders program, training over 5,000 volunteers who have planted more than 25,000 trees in neighborhoods across the city.

“Every neighborhood is different,” says Ifill. “Both from a canopy perspective but also for the types of people who get involved and how they decide to set up their tree tenders group.”

In East Passyunk, for example, tree tenders worked with PHS to establish an urban arboretum, mapping around 40 different tree species in the neighborhood. In Hunting Park, Esperanza partnered with PHS to host the first bilingual tree tender training, resulting in a dedicated group of tenders.

Join the Fall Tree Planting Bonanza

If you’re curious about becoming a tree tender and want to contribute to Philadelphia’s greening efforts, join the fall tree planting bonanza taking place from November 17th to 21st. PHS Tree Tender groups, community organizations, and volunteers will plant over 1,350 trees of 60 different species across the city. No prior experience is required, as volunteers will be led by experienced Tree Tenders who will guide them through the process.

Currently, volunteers are still needed in neighborhoods such as Glenwood, West Poplar, Hunting Park, Grays Ferry, and Point Breeze. These areas are among Philadelphia’s least green neighborhoods, as indicated by the Tree Equity Score map released by conservation nonprofit American Forests. By planting trees in these underserved communities, we can close the gap and improve the quality of life.

The Benefits of a Leafy City

The impact of planting nearly 200,000 trees in Philadelphia would be significant. It would save an estimated 106,165 cubic meters of runoff, remove 14.6 tons of particulate matter pollution, and sequester 2,707.4 tons of carbon annually. Furthermore, increasing tree coverage has been proven to reduce violence and improve mental health.

Walking down a tree-less Philadelphia street feels barren and lacks vibrancy. Trees have a way of bringing joy and vitality to our lives, reminding us of our connection with nature. Let’s come together to create a greener, cooler, and healthier city.

To learn more about tree planting and how you can get involved, visit Tips Tree Planting. Together, we can transform Philadelphia into a thriving urban oasis.

Header photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

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