New York City

The City of New York, the most densely populated city in the United States, is home to more than 8 million residents within the city. This megacity is also home to 7+million trees and is looking to considerably increase that number.

The common theme being recognized among municipalities, including New York, is this: A thriving urban canopy is a vital part of every city providing endless benefits and needs to be prioritized. The NYC Urban Forest Agenda was put in place by representatives from almost 50 organizations who saw the lack of the long-term plan and protection for the current canopy in the city and surrounding metro. Together, this coalition has created a robust agenda, which outlines the gaps and provides solutions for a successful urban canopy that will impact the city and its residents for generations.

“Together we dreamed of how the urban forest could help create a more sustainable, resilient, equitable, and just city,” said Bill Ulferder, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy and member of the NYC Urban Forest Agenda.

The agenda has 12 Clear Actions outlining directives that will target the improvement of the following:

  • Improve human health and well-being.
  • Enhance the health and climate resilience of the forest and the communities it serves.
  • Increase the equity of benefits of the urban forest.
  • Inspire increased connection to and investment in the urban forest.

The agenda inspires action to create strategic planning, encouragement of stewardship and management, investment, learning, research, and policy within the urban canopy in the city.

The Urban Canopy Gap

A common thread among urban canopies showcases lush and green areas within high-income areas and less canopy among lower-income areas. This was recognized by the members of the NYC Urban Agenda and further researched and targeted in the agenda.

A study completed by American Forests highlighted that lower income communities in New York have up to 25 per cent less urban tree coverage and up to 50 per less greenery in their communities. Extreme situations showcase wealthy areas boasting an increased 65 per cent more tree canopy than communities where nine out of 10 people live below the poverty line. These statistics are specific to a New York study but are accurate among cities across North America.

New York City

The effects of the lack of tree coverage in low-income areas is a matter of life and death for many. Low-income communities are more likely to experience heat related death, due in part to the lack of urban canopy protection. It is estimated that trees prevent more than 1200 heat related deaths annually due to their cooling properties. Areas with tree coverage can experience cooling effects up to 10-degrees versus a place without trees.

Low-income areas with urban canopy disadvantages prevent these communities in partaking of the many benefits provided by trees, including physical and mental health aid, increased economic opportunities, Co2 benefits, and more.

“The distribution of the city’s trees needs to be more equitable, and access to them needs to be improved so that all New Yorkers will benefit from these resources equally.” Excerpt from the NYC Urban Forest Agenda.

Step Up!

Municipalities, it’s time to step up:

Unfortunately, too many municipalities shove trees to the bottom of the pile. It is the first item to be cut in city budgets, the last forgotten item in building projects, not planned for at all, or many times installed with no foresight to the on-going maintenance required. As cities are growing, urban canopies are shrinking. Government initiatives such as New York’s MillionTreesNYC and Cool Neighbourhoods NYC are a noble enterprise, but do not provide a long-term solution to protect the current urban canopy and significantly increase tree coverage in the city.

The action of the NYC Forest Agenda is the first step in combatting the shrinking urban canopy in Americas most densely populated city and creates a practical roadmap to be utilized by the private and public sector. The estimated monetary value of NYC trees to date, totals at $5.7 billion. The initial cost of trees and the maintenance budget required is an initial cost that is paid back time and time again, creating enriched communities for all to enjoy.

A New York Study:

  • 4.2 million tons of carbon dioxide stored per year by NYC trees equals the value of 907,000 cars off the road = monetary value of $153 million per year
  • 186,000 tons of carbon dioxide removed per year by NYC trees equals the value 40,500 cars off the road = monetary value of $6.8 million per year
  • 1,100 tons of air pollutants removed per year by NYC trees = monetary value of $78 million per year
  • 69,700 MWH residential energy savings per year by NYC trees negates the output of 8,300 homes = monetary value of $17.1 million per year
  • 69 million cubic feet of reduced stormwater runoff per year = monetary value of $4.6 million per year

This totals to $260 million annual combined benefits and services of the existing NYC urban forest. In the scheme of things, trees are a small investment with big payoffs.

Did You Know:

  • Starting in 2018, over two years, The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the National Park Service and the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, NYC, planted more than 28,000 trees and shrubs with more than 1,000 volunteers at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
  • As New York City sees more intense heat waves and frequent storms due to climate change, caring for its urban forest will help fight those effects, benefiting both people and nature.
  • The nearly 60 cemeteries in NYC provide urban green space and trees that support biodiversity, recreation, and restoration.
  • Spaced 25 feet apart, New York City Street trees would stretch more than 2,800 miles–all the way to Las Vegas.
  • Acres of urban tree canopy: 44,509 acres

Interested in learning more? Check out The Nature Conservancy.