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When we think of urban forestry, generally we think of city parks, however, urban forestry includes a city’s oversight of the planting, care and management of street trees. These trees play a critical role in improving the climate of urban areas. While the trees’ leaves provide shade to reduce heat and remove carbon from the surrounding air, the trees themselves add value to homes and neighborhoods. Trees also support public health by providing cleaner air and water, by creating welcoming outdoor recreation space, by reducing stress and by increasing positive social interactions. Furthermore, trees have a proven economic value in reducing the costs of crime.

During this time of year, the main streets of well-to-do towns are lined with trees aglow with holiday lights. In less affluent areas, however, one may be hard-pressed to find a single street tree. Walking along a city sidewalk in a poor urban area, one is more likely to notice square patches of cold dirt or square patches full of weeds and trash. These waste land spaces are waiting to provide a home to a linden or a maple.

Urban residents can improve environmental quality by assisting their cities with the process of planting and tending street trees, in front of their very own properties. The city of Providence, for example, provides a list of species recommended by the City Forester. These trees are chosen for their ability to withstand drought, pollution and other urban stresses. All planting in the city right-of-way must be approved through the Parks Forestry Division. City forestry divisions will work with landlords, residents, schools and businesses to recommend and plant street trees and to show show to care for them properly. Providence offers three options for planting. The first is to obtain free trees by applying to the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PNPP) for a “group award.” The second option is for individuals to match half the planting cost and request to have the tree planted through the PNPP. The third option is to apply for a tree planting permit to plant a tree yourself. There are many organizations willing to collaborate with cities to help them plant more trees, from the well-established Arbor Day Foundation with its Tree City USA program to Tree-Plenish, a new student-led organization dedicated to creating more sustainable schools through tree planting.

Schools consume a lot of paper, and Tree-Plenish is leveraging the power and passion of students to recognize this fact and use it to create meaningful environmental change. The organization was founded by two high school seniors who figured out that in order to replenish the paper used by their school during that one year, they would need to plant over 200 trees. Having surpassed their goal, these students began introducing the concept to other schools. Tree-Plenish co-founder Lizzy Elsner is now a sophomore at the University of Vermont and co-founder Sethu Odayappan is a sophomore at Harvard College. This year, Tree-Plenish has a team of 25 college freshmen and sophomores, volunteering across the country to help extend its reach and plant thousands of trees. Tree-Plenish seeks urban partnerships, so it can extend its reach to bring tree-quity into disadvantaged city neighborhoods. Story Walking Radio Hour Host Wendy Fachon comments, “It’s inspiring to hear exactly how these young people are creatively working around the pandemic’s social restrictions to engage with one another and multiply their impact, taking on each challenge and turning it to their advantage. My Dreamvisions 7 Radio interview with Lizzy and Sethu is both inspiring and empowering.”

To learn more, listen to the Story Walking Radio Hour episode, Offsetting School’s Paper Usage, One Tree at a Time, which begins airing Monday, December 7, at 9am and 9pmET on the Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network. Listen Live: or Get our App
Listen online, mobile, in cars and through Amazon’s Echo by asking “Alexa play Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network”

Wendy Fachon is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine and Sustainable Living News and host of the Story Walking Radio Hour on the Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network. Visit and search out her podcasts on sustainable living.

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