New York City made the top-10 list for having the best urban forest maintenance program for its 2.6 million public trees -- a significant feat for the nation's most densely populated city, according to a survey by the nation's oldest conservancy group.
"Not every major city in the country pulls in all its resources to plant and maintain its trees and parks," said Scott Steen, chief executive of American Forests, a nonprofit that took stock of the nation's top 50 cities. They used government records to evaluate park space, accessibility and financial commitment to expanding "urban forest" programs. The survey was funded by the U.S. Forest Service.
"It's remarkable that New York City made it a priority, and the payoff will reap benefits for future generations," Steen said. This is the first time American Forests conducted the survey. Other cities that made the list include Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, Calif.; Seattle; and Washington.
"We want to create more awareness that city trees help mitigate climate change and that it actually helps lower the level of stress, violence and fear in a city," Steen said.
The pruning and maintenance of millions of trees, coupled with a commitment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to plant between 8,000 to 10,000 trees a year, is a huge jump from the late 1990s, when the goal was to plant 2,000 a year, said Jeremy Barrick, deputy chief of the city parks' Forest, Horticulture and Natural Resource Division.
"This is pretty remarkable and impressive," Barrick said of the city's commitment to tree planting. The city funded $28 million to plant street trees and $3.8 million for its maintenance program, he said.
"This speaks volumes . . . [about] what is being done,'' said Barrick, who noted that it has taken 12 years to "build this. This will guarantee our children a tree canopy that will give the city cleaner water, cleaner air and nicer neighborhoods.''
However, Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, an independent, nonprofit watchdog group that monitors city parks and tree maintenance, said he was surprised. He said the city has less than 100 employees who prune and inspect city trees.
"Inspections are so backlogged that the health of our trees has become dangerous. People have gotten killed, or hurt by fallen limbs. I would have liked the people doing this survey to have actually inspected our trees,'' Croft said.
Last year the city ranked third with Boston in park spending, said Adrian Benepe, director of city park development at Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group. He said the city spends $152 per resident on parks and ranked 12th in open space within a densely populated city.