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Environmentalists face challenges trying to plant in less-green neighborhoods

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Thank ya Pete.

http://www.timesdispatch.com/content/tncms/live/

Environmentalists face challenges trying to plant in less-green neighborhoods

WASHINGTON — When city crews showed up one recent day to plant trees in front of her rowhouse in Southeast Washington, Doris Gudger made it clear she was not happy.

While some might look at a sapling and think of cleaner air and birds alighting, Gudger saw something else: a problem.

The pollen would aggravate her allergies. The leaves would be a pain to rake. Its shade would draw drug dealers. And, she feared, soon would follow affluent gentrifiers and higher taxes, pushing out older residents such as herself.

“To me, the trees create more problems than when they weren’t there,” said Gudger, 61, a retired secretary who has lived in Anacostia since 1996 and wants the plantings removed. “I don’t know why they need so many trees on this block anyway.”

Whether pleasure or irritant, trees turn out to be a telling barometer of income inequality in the Washington area, data show.

New data on the region’s tree canopy compiled by the University of Vermont’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory and analyzed by The Washington Post show a stark divide between the region’s lower- and higher-income neighborhoods.

In areas with typical household incomes below $60,000, more than a quarter of residents live with fewer trees and more open space to grow them. Where typical household incomes are above $120,000, some 60 percent of residents live in leafy neighborhoods that are well-planted, the analysis shows. The analysis rated neighborhoods on a percentage scale that reflects existing trees and open space that could in theory be planted.

A clear fault line has emerged, beginning at upper 16th Street in Northwest and following the Potomac River south of the city. In the Northwest quadrant of the city and into the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, trees are abundant and the land well-planted. To the east, in the lower-income areas of Washington and into Prince George’s County, the tree canopy is much sparser and there is far more open land.

Urban foresters find that before hoisting their shovels to plant in underserved areas, they must frequently persuade residents that trees are important. They say they often get resistance from residents such as Gudger, who worry about whether the city will help maintain the trees and focus on other negatives. Many of them are unaware of the benefits of trees — such as mitigating air pollution, reducing mental stress, saving energy by shading homes and slowing storm water.

In the lower-income areas of Washington, nearly 40 percent of residents live in places with fewer trees and more empty spaces. Meanwhile, 80 percent of residents in upper-income areas live in well-planted neighborhoods, data show.

“By and large, in areas where people have more disposable income, you’ll see greener areas and a better understanding of what trees and greenery provide,” said Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees, the local nonprofit that has been working to restore Washington’s tree canopy for more than a decade.

The city has often been praised for its urban forest, boosted by trees on the federally owned Mall and in Rock Creek Park. But only 36 percent of the overall canopy remains, a decrease from 50 percent in 1950. The decline is due in large part to development.

The city and nonprofit groups have been trying to plant at least 8,600 trees a year to increase the canopy to 40 percent in the next two decades.

Urban forestry experts say that working with neighbors is becoming more important in preserving the tree canopy. Over the years, Buscaino said, Casey Trees has learned the hard way that it does no good to plant trees if there is no community support for them. In its early years, the group planted dozens of trees that ended up withering and dying because no one watered them. Now, the group does tree plantings only when a homeowners association or community group asks for help, Buscaino says. But some environmentalists say it’s not enough to just show up at community meetings, extol the virtues of trees and expect residents to embrace planting them. The foresters often are perceived as outsiders, and that can make people apprehensive, say Dennis Chestnut, a Casey Trees volunteer who is also the executive director of Groundwork Anacostia, an environmental group. Taking the time to convince individuals can make the difference, he says.

When Xavier Brown, 27, director of urban agriculture at a nonprofit group called the Green Scheme, which works to raise environmental awareness in Washington, planted a community garden last year in Lincoln Heights, he first found little enthusiasm among the neighbors.

He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make gardening look cool to the younger residents. He even tried the visual stunt of planting a sunflower in a Ken Griffey Jr. Nike shoe.

After residents got to know Brown, a Washington native, and sampled the abundant vegetables that poured out of the garden, a tree planting on the property this spring was much better attended. He turned it into a mini-block party, with kale salad, sandwiches and a DJ.

Turns out there were any number of groups willing to help, he says, but it took him a while to figure out whom.

“You really have to know how to network with people and have to talk to the right people to get the community involved,” said Brown, who also is a citizen forester with Casey Trees.

Residents of the development said they were excited about the additions to their neighborhood, although many seemed uncertain about who would assume stewardship of the trees after they were planted. That job would be left up to the residents.

“This is ours, our own personal tree?” Jalen Webb, 9, asked his mother, Dina Webb, a homemaker, after they had planted an American sweet gum.

She nodded and gave him a hug. “Now, it’s going to look nice,” she said. “We got to keep it watered.”

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Written by vaphc

May 8, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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