At a time when businesses and organizations are making the pivot to virtual experiences, Speak for the Trees branched out by hosting an informal online reception to talk about the different ways trees and other forms of nature can be better integrated in the City of Boston.
The organization aims to improve the size and health of the urban forest in the greater Boston area, with a focus on under-served and under-canopied neighborhoods.
“It’s not my mess, but it’s my planet,” was a common theme explored during the webcast. Co-Founder and Executive Director Dr. David Meshoulam opened with a land acknowledgment, remembering the historical and culturally significant legacy of the Native American populations of Massachusetts. Dr. Meshoulam was joined by Executive Board Member Dr. Atyia Martin.
Dr. Meshoulam stressed the importance of community engagement for Speak for the Trees, a principle he also spoke about in his presentation to the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) last June. Examples provided included efforts to reduce “barren streets and tree deserts only steps away from one of the best park systems in the country,” encouraging watering as well as planting to further emphasize the importance of responsible stewardship, and generally strategizing around ways to bring trees to people and foster connection even in the time of COVID-19, if not especially so.
Communities are seen as forming the heart of the decision-making process due to the very different lived experiences of the individuals located in and around Boston’s diverse neighborhoods. Dr. Martin spoke to the urgent need to provide accessibility and benefit to the people of Boston through programs like the Residential Volun-Tree Program, Tree Giveaways, and more.
Geneva Ave in Dorchester’s Tree Planting and Community Garden initiative was highlighted as a case study, along with work put in by Teen Urban Tree Corp members Sammi Huang and Jason Sencharles. “With this program, we ultimately ended up doing much more than tree identification,” Huang observed. “We were able to carefully observe where more trees could be placed and report this data to the City for the sake of a better environment.” Huang also echoed both Dr. Martin and Dr. Meshoulam’s points about the affect of trees on the economy, housing, and social justice.
Trees providing insulation, shade, and wind block were a few useful features mentioned, and Tree Equity as a concept and best practice was additionally explored. Brief remarks shared by Jad Daley, President and CEO of American Forests, rounded out the discussion. Daley shared insights on work being done with the aim of there being a “singularly focused agenda advancing urban forestry in partnership with other entities” adding that science-based, data-driven efforts were imperative, “This is not just about planting trees.”
Future virtual events are being explored as part of Speak for the Trees adapted programming, including a virtual symposium in partnership with Boston University planned for April 2nd at 3PM. Shortly before the webcast ended, Dr. Meshoulam shared an important goal: “We want to ensure that the Boston we’re building today is healthy and livable 20, 40, and 50 years into the future.”