Beautifying urban neighbourhoods by planting trees is a wonderful project to undertake, especially with the threat of climate change that we are currently facing. Urban greening projects offer health benefits to residents, from improved air quality to decreased crime, and seek to boost the typically lower amount of tree cover in low-income neighbourhoods. We’d think that there would be no resistance to projects such as these, however, the results of a study found that nearly one-quarter of eligible residents in Detroit, Michigan, rejected free street trees. And the residents offered good reasons for their resistance.
Those reasons are what inspired us to create this article, through which we could discuss the top elements that need to be taken into consideration before one decides to tackle a project with the intent on greenifying urban neighbourhoods. The longevity of the project, the people affected, tree maintenance and finally education regarding tree care.
Firstly, find out what experience the neighbourhood has from past greening projects. A negative experience in the past will have an effect on the community’s outlook on these projects in the present. Low-income neighbourhoods grappling with the blight from vacant properties and dead or hazardous trees will most likely not be interested in a greening project that is not self-sustainable.
In the study regarding Detroit residence, a member of the community noted the following.
“Even though it’s city property, we’re gonna end up having to care for it and raking leaves and God knows whatever else we might have to do,”
Government projects constantly face the possibility of budget decreases in the future that cannot be predicted, which means that despite initial intent, residents do stand the chance of bearing the brunt of the responsibility of caring for trees that they did not ask for or have the proper knowledge to care for.
With this in mind it is important to start a greening project by including the residents from the very beginning. They should have a say in the species that are planted in their neighbourhood and, if they are interested, they need to be properly educated in caring for those species. A way of preventing the burden of tree care falling on the residents’ shoulders is to involve the community in the care of the trees and offer positions to those willing to nurture the project and to track the ways in which it is thriving or failing.
Investing more effort in follow-up communication with residents who receive trees would also help to ensure that trees are cared for and that residents do not feel overburdened with tree maintenance.
Projects such as these are not completed overnight. It takes years to measure the success of a project which is why we need to broaden the measurable outcomes by which we can gauge success.
“Healthy urban forests cannot be measured just by the number of trees planted. We also have to capture who is involved, and how that involvement affects the well-being of people and trees in the long-term.” says Christine Carmichael, a researcher from the University of Vermont.
Without the involvement of the community there will be no longevity for greening projects. It is up to everyone to ensure that a beautified community is also a happy community.
Let us know what your experience has been regarding greening projects in your community or neighbourhood. We’d love more feedback to be added to this article in order to ensure that the projects have a better chance at success and longevity.