City plan to plant more trees in black and Latino areas, according to West Siders, could improve public health and crime

NORTH LAWNDALE – Efforts to make the West Side more lush and greener may soon benefit from funds set aside in the city’s budget to ensure black and Latino neighborhoods receive their fair share of trees.

The city’s budget spends $ 46 million on tree equity, which prioritizes tree planting in historically marginalized neighborhoods. There is a visible disparity between neighborhoods like Lawndale, where trees can be scarce, and North Side neighborhoods like North Center, where the public road is rich in trees, flowers, and greenery.

City funding will also support greening initiatives already implemented by local communities.

One such effort is the TREEmendous Lawndale Campaign, an initiative to double the tree canopy in North Lawndale over the next 10 years. TREEmendous Lawndale aims to use greening efforts for beautification and tackle larger issues such as public safety, community health, stormwater damage and climate issues.

Bringing more trees to the neighborhood can transform North Lawndale by making it more walkable and improving people’s physical and mental health, said Carolyn Vessel, CEO of the I AM ABLE Center for Family Development. The process of planting and caring for trees also makes people feel calmer and more connected to their community, Vessel said.

“It has to do with the quality of the air, the breathing and the beauty within the community,” Vessel said. “A tree is an entity that gives life. We want to use it to push life over death. We can take all of that and use it as a learning tool, teaching people how to replant, start over, how to take care of that baby tree.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
The CTA Green Line rail line runs adjacent to Garfield Park on November 22, 2021.

TREEmendous Lawndale was created by the GROWSS Committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, a branch of the neighborhood group focused on greenery, community gardens, outdoor spaces and food justice.

The campaign was also planned with the benefits to public safety in mind, Vessel said. A 2001 University of Illinois study of the Ida B. Wells housing project in the South Side found that buildings surrounded by trees and foliage had 56 percent fewer violent incidents and 48 percent fewer incidents of violence. 100 fewer property crimes than neighboring buildings where trees had been felled.

The tree canopy provides residents with a “healing place to sit and spend time together” with other members of the community, Vessel said. The ability to connect with others in the neighborhood and the mental health benefits of the added greenery can be used to defuse tensions before they peak, Vessel said.

“We see this as an anti-violence initiative where people can sit down and start talking again. Where children can play and have fun again. Life takes on new meaning when people can plant trees and respond by helping them grow and develop, ”said Vessel.

Improving the greenery in the neighborhood was one of the goals set out in North Lawndale’s Quality of Life Plan, a community plan to address issues such as health, public safety and education. These planning efforts and the TREEmendous Lawndale campaign have paved the way for the city to allocate additional investment in projects that already have community buy-in, said Carolyn O’Boyle, program director for the Trust for Public Land. and member of the GROWSS committee. .

“The wishes of the community are already documented. It helps guide the city’s work, but it also helps unify the community, ”said O’Boyle. “The city’s efforts and the community’s efforts are mutually reinforcing.

TREEendous Lawndale takes a multi-pronged approach to strengthening the tree canopy. The project pushed for more public investment while encouraging individual residents, business owners and investors to plant trees on their properties and include trees in developments in the area.

Another strategy is to win the “hearts and minds” of residents by raising awareness and educating people about the benefits of trees. The group has coordinated field trips to the Morton Arboretum to spark people’s interest in trees, and they organize a monthly series of tree-related actions and programs.

“It starts with appreciation, and it takes action,” O’Boyle said.

Community participation will also be key to ensuring the success of the city’s investment in trees, O’Boyle said.

Since August, the city’s public health department has brought together neighborhood groups in a tree equity working group to develop a community site selection tool. The tool allows city and local groups to examine data on tree canopy, air quality, land surface temperatures, economic hardship and other factors to determine which areas need priorities and how the city will deploy tree plantations when the plan is implemented. .

“One of the things we don’t want to do is stop progress. … All of these community organizations have already done it. This is our opportunity to fill in the gaps, ”said Raed Mansour, director of the innovation office at the city’s health department.

Investing in trees and other climate-related programs provide an opportunity to bring other racial justice issues into the environmental movement, Mansour said. This can happen through employment programs that provide career opportunities in the growing green industry for people living in historically divested areas.

As part of the TREEmendous Lawndale initiative, the Trust for Public Land provided a small grant to the North Lawndale Employment Network to start developing opportunities for local job seekers in green careers, especially for people who were previously incarcerated.

“It’s not just about planting trees. When you talk to communities, it’s about tree maintenance and preservation, but also vocational training and workforce development in green jobs, ”Mansour said.

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