Environment / Parks

Tree census kicks off in Hunts Point

Natalie Lally

Volunteers helped launch the NYC Trees Census at Julio Carballo Park on May 19.

Manida Street park hosts launch of city’s first tree count in 30 years

One, two, TREE!

The New York City Parks Department picked Hunts Point as the launching spot for the NYC Tree Census – the first official count of the city’s green residents in three decades. On May 19, local officials, sponsors, neighborhood activists, residents and members of environmental group Sustainable South Bronx gathered in Julio Carballo Park on Manida Street to speak about the environment, learn about advancements in mapping technology, and witness first-hand how trees contribute to the community.

City Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco teamed up to start the festivities by mapping the first trees of the census. Thousands of volunteers will now travel to all five boroughs to record important data on the estimated 600,000 street trees scattered around the city.

“Hunts Point is one of our Trees for Public Health zones, as well as a Community Parks Initiative area, so it made sense for us to do it here,” said Jaclyn Shanley, the NYC Tree Census coordinator. “Sustainable South Bronx was also the first group to formally commit to being our partner.”

Tree Count! 2015, presented by Whole Foods and BMW, marks the largest street tree count in the nation. Once the trees are counted, the data will help the city manage the trees better, as well as create a map of where trees need to be planted in all of the boroughs. The Parks Department can then assign foresters to specific areas that need the most help.

The stars of the event were clearly the neighborhood’s trees. And while the Tree Census has a practical purpose, organizers hope it will also  promote the importance of greenery in the urban environment.

“This is definitely one of the areas that we would like to promote more stewardship and citizen tree care,” said Shanley. “We love this location!”

Sustainable South Bronx works to address the environmental issues being faced in the South Bronx, as well as New York City as a whole. Founded in 2001, the organization advocates for parks and green development, with the reduction of air pollution as its major target in the neighborhood, especially given the high commercial traffic on local streets.

“Trees obviously absorb pollutants and that is extremely important in a neighborhood like Hunts Point, where estimates of about 30 percent of young people have asthma,” said Michael Brotchner, the group’s executive director.

In addition, the shade provided by trees can benefit residents by cooling energy-inefficient buildings in summer, bringing down utility bills, he added.

“What the tree count is doing is actually providing tangible economic and public health benefits in a way that’s really, really exciting,” said Brotchner.

Rafael Salamanca, the district manager of Community Board 2, said the recognition Sustainable South Bronx has received is well deserved because of the role it has played in cleaning the local environment. That has, in turn, attracted city parks officials to the neighborhood, he said.

“Now they’re coming more and more into our community to start these initiatives,” said Salamanca. “It just goes to show the work that we’re doing here in Hunts Point.”

The Parks Department is counting on 5,000 volunteers citywide to complete the survey, including Rahaim Hawkins who grew up on Hunts Point Avenue and now lives on Simpson Street. He and other local volunteers participating in the tree census are part of a mentoring program run by Sustainable South Bronx.

“It’s more of a criminal justice program that basically teaches us different things about life and doing right for our community,” said Hawkins. “This is my second time doing this, and I’m kind of happy to do it again.”

Commissioner Silver explained that the city will create a map to document the 2015 tree census data, which will be publically accessible to all, showcasing all of the urban forest trends and changes throughout the years.

“Technology is a key part of New York City’s future,” said Tantoco, the city’s first-ever chief technology officer. In past tree censuses, it has taken the Parks Dept. up to two year to compile the collected data.

Along with new technology, BMW has also made the census easier by donating 20 new i3 electric cars to help staff and volunteers travel across the boroughs.

“We are going to modernize not only how government uses technology but also how the New York City government engages residents of New York City to participate in wonderful things like the tree census,” said Tantoco. “Carpe Tree-im!”

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