Here's how community orgs can green their streets with TreePhilly - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 27, 2018 10:00 am

Here’s how community orgs can green their streets with TreePhilly

Columnist Akeem Dixon chats with Program Manager Erica Smith Fichman about the health and societal benefits of a bigger urban tree canopy and how local nonprofits can get some free trees for their neighborhoods.

An October 2017 TreePhilly tree giveaway with the Parkside Association of Philadelphia.

(Photo via facebook.com/TreePhilly)

Cool Things Wit Cool People is a monthly column by Akeem Dixon focusing on community development. To ask a question, email coolthingswitcoolpeople@gmail.com, or reach out @akeemdixon.


Everyone loves trees. They are relaxing and offer peace and tranquility.

I’m not referring to the country’s recent fascination with marijuana and dispensaries. Instead, we’re talking about the old-school plants that offer shade and beautify communities. The kind that we dream of climbing, that could hold a swing, that could protect our homes from excessive sun rays.

In this edition of Dear Akeem, we’ll learn about TreePhilly, a program of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation that provides free trees to Philadelphians. Its Community Yard Tree Giveaway program provides grants to community-based organizations — CDCs, cultural nonprofits, schools and the like — so they can host their own giveaway events where TreePhilly offers free trees, mulch and education to local residents. Past participants include the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition, PowerCorpsPHL and the Muslim Youth Center of Philadelphia.

Heads up: Apps for orgs interested in hosting yard tree giveaway events are due this Friday, Aug. 31.

TreePhilly Program Manager Erica Smith Fichman chats with us here about origin of the organization, the design of its programming and how trees make neighborhoods better.

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Akeem Dixon: Tell us about the background of TreePhilly. Free trees, resources and breaking up cement is pretty intense and expensive. Who funds the program? Who benefits from it?

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Erica Smith Fichman: Tree Philly is a program of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, in partnership with Fairmount Park Conservancy, and sponsored by TD Bank. Our goal is to increase the tree canopy in the city to 30 percent canopy cover in every neighborhood, and the way we’ve tried to do that is by helping Philadelphia residents plant trees on their own private property.

The flagship program of TreePhilly is the Community Yard Tree Giveaway program, where we give away free trees for people to plant in their yards every spring and fall. We also provide educational materials and tree planting and care demonstrations at each event, along with free mulch to take home with your tree.

These trees are only for private property, so we don’t plant them for people or break up people’s concrete for this program, but we do direct people to other programs like the Philadelphia Water Department’s Rain Check program, where they can get assistance in doing some of that work.

This fall season, all of our events will be hosted by community groups. We provide trees, expertise and support so they can host a tree giveaway in their own neighborhood. We’re trying to make it so that there are more events in more neighborhoods across the city, so more people can get free trees!

AD: If there were a toolkit for gentrification, it would possibly include: cafés, yoga studios, murals, bike racks and … trees. How does TreePhilly balance supporting the organized community organizations that are at times comprised of newer residents vs. the block captains and community leaders that have done organizing “unofficially” for some time?

"Many of the more informal or unofficial neighborhood influencers do work across all of the neighborhood institutions, so we try to find them and make them our biggest advocates."
Erica Smith Fichman

TK: This is a big challenge for anyone who does community organizing in cities. We work with lots of different community groups, from civic associations to churches, mosques, schools, cultural organizations, park friends groups and more.

Some of these groups are made up of newer residents, but lots of them are established institutions that have been working in, and for, the community for decades. Many of the more informal or “unofficial” neighborhood influencers do work across all of the neighborhood institutions, so we try to find them and make them our biggest advocates!

AD: Are there stats that detail the increase in property value or revenue generated by businesses that add trees? If not, how else do trees benefit neighborhoods?

TK: Absolutely! Studies show that shoppers will spend more money for goods and services in business areas that have nice tree canopy. They will also travel a greater distance to get there, and spend more time there while they shop.

Trees are a common good — planting a tree in your own yard not only improves your quality of living, but also helps your neighbors by shading the sidewalks, streets and houses around you, cleaning the air and water, providing beauty, and improving people’s mental health!

AD: Can you explain the waiting list process for trees? Break down the process for the Philadelphians who dream of having trees in their community. How do they start the process?

TK: If you want a tree for your own yard, note that we will be hosting about 10 community-based giveaways this October and November. Simply find the event that is closest to you, contact the community group to register for a tree, and then mark your calendar to pick up and plant your tree when the time comes!

If you are more interested in a street tree, which is planted in the right-of-way between the sidewalk and the street, then you’re also in luck because Philadelphia Parks & Recreation has been planting them for residents for free since 1913! Street tree planting needs to be carefully planned for since there are many factors that go into choosing the right tree, making sure there is enough space, and ordering and planting the tree. There are also lots of people who also want a tree in the city, which is a good problem to have!

Because of all of the careful planning, and the long waiting list, it can sometimes take up to two years to get a free street tree planted. But the wait will pay off when you have the right tree planted correctly in the right spot, so it has what it needs to live for many years and provide you with all of those benefits I mentioned before. The first step is to contact Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Street Tree Management office at 215-685-4363 or StreetTree.Info@phila.gov to put in your request today.

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Beautification comes in many shapes and forms — oftentimes, unintentionally, without the input and knowledge of the community. New trash cans, cleaning crews and even trees appear to the amazement of residents who grew accustom to litter and debris covering green spaces.

Learning the process to beautify can feel like watching a tree grow. The hope this month is that a seed has been planted and the community itself can water and grow. So stop and smell the trees, and click here to get your piece of shade.

[P.S. TreePhilly is hiring right now.]

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