In East Boston is a group of students who speak for the trees. Like the forest guardian from Dr. Seuss’ book “The Lorax,” youth organizers with the nonprofit Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, or NOAH, are concerned about the condition of Eastie’s urban canopy.
Using Google Earth, 10 high school students marked every street tree in East Boston on a map. They counted the number of trees per street, measured those streets, and calculated how many trees could fit on each.
Their findings? There are approximately 1,924 trees in East Boston and 320,431 feet of sidewalk space. That means on average there is one tree every 167 feet.
The students hope to double the number of trees in Eastie, encouraging the planting of 2,000 new saplings throughout the neighborhood. This tree brigade is part of NOAH’s larger ClimateCARE program, which emphasizes climate change resiliency.
“Trees have a lot of benefits,” said Kaylee Aguilar, 16, a junior at Winthrop High School. “They provide shade to sidewalks, cleaner air, and less pollution.”
Youth organizers also created a maintenance plan after residents complained that new trees die in the summer because of the heat and lack of water.
Ryan Woods, Boston Parks Department spokesman, said the city is waiting on an official tree canopy assessment of the entire Boston area from the University of Vermont. He’s expecting to see those results by the end of the month.
Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne is the director of the University of Vermont’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory, which is conducting this research.
Similar to what the students did, the lab uses tools such as overhead imagery to map the tree canopy, he says. In same way people sweat and cool off, trees pull up water from the ground, and it dissipates out of their leaves.
“Due to the amount of paved surfaces, cities are becoming warmer,” O’Neil-Dunne said. “Trees are effective at reducing the urban heat island effect.”
The city plants between 1,200 and 1,600 trees a year around Boston, Woods said. City officials can’t vouch for the students’ research, but they are donating a custom-made bike with an attached trailer to help the tree-watering efforts. NOAH intends to pay other East Boston youth a small stipend to ride around the neighborhood watering trees, maintaining tree pits, and doing outreach to expand the program. The bike could carry a couple of 5-gallon water bottles. The goal is eventually to partner with neighbors who will assist in caring for trees and occasionally lend their garden hoses. The young people will serve as the organization’s tree ambassadors, said Melinda Vega, community engagement coordinator with NOAH.
“I’m as excited as they are to finally get this going,” said Greg Mosman, city arborist and tree warden for the city of Boston.
The city is partnering and donating a bike to a similar project in Franklin Field Housing Development in Dorchester, where 75 to 100 trees were recently planted.
Students presented some of their findings on the lack of tree cover at community meetings in recent months, getting feedback from residents. They pointed to roadways that could fit a few more trees. They’ve encouraged residents to adopt care of a tree and informed them that they can call 311 to request a tree be planted on public property.
Gabriela Ramirez, 16, said she enjoyed interacting with residents and local business owners at meetings.
“I got to meet people that live in my community, and I got know more about the area I grew up in and live in,” said the junior at Excel Academy Charter High School.
Vega said their youth organizers are also educating residents about climate change and emergency flood preparation.
“This is something we’re doing to bring more awareness to climate change,” said Aguilar, the junior at Winthrop High. “We are more aware than most people think. We do have an urge to fight back and do something good.”
Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.