What kind of city infrastructure cleans the air, cools neighborhoods on oppressively hot summer days, supports pollinator habitats, and only increases in value over time? We’re not describing futuristic sci-fi tech or a groundbreaking invention. The answer is simple: trees.
“Urban trees are critical public infrastructure,” says Cassie Tharinger, executive director of Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PNPP). “In the face of increased pollution, more frequent extreme weather events, and spiking summer temperatures, urban trees are an excellent tool to [mitigate the harm] to our environment and improve the physical and mental health of our communities.”
PNPP has been advocating for increased tree coverage since 1989 when the organization was founded by Peggy Sharpe in light of the city’s thinning tree canopy, and more recent initiatives have only spurred the movement along. The PVD Tree Plan, whose formation was prompted by the City’s 2019 Climate Justice Plan, calls on community voices to shape a comprehensive vision for green infrastructure and equitable tree distribution, with PNPP serving as one of the lead partners.
Working with the Forestry Division of the Providence Parks Department, PNPP members plant and steward trees for free in neighborhoods that need them most. They also train volunteer Providence Community Tree Keepers, providing them with a basic understanding of gardening, landscaping, and plant biology.
“It’s tough to make it as a young tree in the big city, and the work doesn’t end after planting time! In order for trees to thrive, they need careful maintenance in their early years,” says Tharinger. While recipients and community groups ensure they’re watered, “PVD Community Tree Keepers provide the critical structural pruning of young trees, which ensures they grow into resilient mature trees that don’t conflict with the surrounding infrastructure.”
In addition to the tens of thousands of trees the organization has grown over the years, they’ve also planted seeds in young environmentalists. Through partnerships with stakeholders in Lower South Providence, they’ve taught community members, including young students, about tree stewardship. “The youth at 360 High School and Juanita Sanchez HS, in particular, have taken a lead on identifying where trees are needed, conducting outreach in the community, and planting trees – they even planned and hosted the City’s Arbor Day Celebration last spring,” shares Tharinger. Through Garden Time and their Green Jobs Reentry Program, PNPP has also seen participants go on to take the lead in caring for trees in the Silver Lake neighborhood.
“In Providence, as in most cities, the neighborhoods with the fewest trees also have the lowest income levels and highest proportion of communities of color and immigrant populations,” says Tharinger, explaining that these neighborhoods are also more susceptible to other climate-related impacts, such as the heat island effect (in which built infrastructure re-emits the sun’s heat, creating pockets of higher temperatures) and flooding vulnerability, as well as environmentally influenced health conditions like asthma.
“These issues are complex and will not be solved by trees alone, but trees and green space play a critical role in creating a more just and healthy city,” says Tharinger. “Tree equity is the idea that we should all be able to access the benefits trees provide, regardless of where we live.”
Participate in tree plantings and hands-on TreeLC events happening early this month with dates and info posted online at PNPP.org/volunteer.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here