By Will Sulahian
Planting trees is a powerful way to improve the health and well-being of yourself and your neighbors. Tending trees is one of the most important and rewarding tasks you can do to help your community. PHS’s Tree Tenders program works with volunteer-based community groups to plant over 1,300 trees each year.
Leading the way for trees in our city is Mindy Maslin, PHS Tree Tenders Program Manager and program founder. In 1991, Maslin, a social worker, saw the opportunity to create a citizen stewardship program that was neighborhood-based. "I hoped that, provided with the necessary educational and physical tools, people would rise to the call to improve the tree cover in their own communities," she says. It worked!
In the Philadelphia region, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has trained, supported, and partnered with more than 5,000 volunteer Tree Tenders to plant 17,000 trees since its founding in 1993.
Buildings and other man-made infrastructure absorb heat, raising the temperature considerably higher than in rural or natural areas. This is referred to as the "heat island effect," and it is one of the many unintended consequences of urbanization. A hotter climate within a city leads to more air conditioning and electricity use. It also poses health risks, especially for the elderly. One way to combat this effect is to increase tree coverage. Not only do trees provide comfortable shade, but they can decrease the temperature near the ground by up to 10 degrees." Trees act like air conditioners, releasing cooling moisture into the air and making our urban communities livable," says Maslin.
Tree-lined streets draw residents outdoors where they can meet their neighbors. This in turn creates a safer, friendlier community. "Statistics show that crime rates are lower in communities with high tree cover," says Maslin. According to a study published in Landscape and Urban Planning, "a 10 percent increase in trees roughly equaled a 12 percent decrease in crime." Another study found that vegetation abundance is significantly associated with lower rates of assault, robbery, and burglary.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, purifying the air we breathe. Amazingly, they also protect our drinking water by intercepting stormwater, filtering pollutants, and reducing runoff.
Tree coverage (or tree canopy) varies a lot between neighborhoods in Philadelphia. While 30% tree coverage is considered good, Philadelphia only has 20% tree coverage city-wide. To add to this, some neighborhoods have as low as 2.5% coverage. This is not nearly enough to fight against heat islands as well as air and water pollution." Tree Tenders prioritizes these low-canopy neighborhoods ensuring that the most vulnerable communities are in the forefront of those benefiting from our work to increase tree canopy," says Maslin.
Learn the easy, affordable, and responsible ways you can plant and care for trees with PHS. You'll be helping PHS continue its mission to build a healthier, more beautiful environment for all to enjoy.