Something was missing in North Lawndale. As Reverend Reshorna Fitzpatrick walked down the street it was hard to determine exactly what it was, but when she visited another part of town it became clear.
“It’s the canopy that makes the difference,” she said. “It’s beautiful, it’s green, it’s fresh, it’s vibrant.”
With only 10.7% of the land shaded by trees, some blocks are completely bare. The city average is 16%. From 2011 to 2021, the neighborhood received an average of 4.1 new trees per street mile, one-seventh the number of trees planted in the Edgewater neighborhood on the North Side.
But this year, the city planted 957 trees in North Lawndale, the most of any neighborhood, according to city data.
“It’s going to make a difference to this community,” Fitzpatrick said.
In the first year of Our Roots Chicago, the city’s program to address canopy inequality, 33% of trees planted went to 11 priority neighborhoods, including North Lawndale.
The city surpassed its goal, planting 18,000 trees, but this year has been dedicated to solving operational challenges, resolving a three-year backlog of 311 requests and recruiting tree ambassadors to advocate for trees in priority neighborhoods, city spokesperson Mimi said. Simon.
“We will continue this momentum in year two and are confident in our ability to promote a fairer canopy for all,” Simon said in an email.
Chicago’s canopy has declined in the 2010s and falls short compared to other major cities. And during that slowdown, the city planted significantly fewer trees in neighborhoods on its south and west sides, according to a Chicago Tribune study.
Research shows that fewer trees in neighborhoods can lead to an increase in the effects of climate change, leading to higher temperatures, more flooding and polluted air.
Under Our Roots, some neighborhoods have been identified as priority areas for tree planting as the city strives to expand its overall tree cover. But planting is only part of providing the benefits of trees to all Chicago residents, said Michael Dugan, forestry director for Openlands, a tree advocacy organization.
The addition of the Urban Forestry Advisory Board approved by the city council last year is another promising first step, he said. This board is responsible for recommending tree canopy policies and developing a management plan for the city.
“We need everyone on board,” Dugan said.
Here you will find the number of trees planted in the city’s other 10 priority areas:
- 553 at the back of the yards/new town
- 460 at Greater Grand Crossing
- 394 at McKinley Park
- 87 on the Pantserplein
- 462 at Austin
- 529 at Little Village/South Lawndale
- 257 at East Garfield Park
- 393 in Brighton Park
- 695 in Humboldt Park
- 435 near West Side
A total of 5,222 trees were planted in these neighborhoods, out of nearly 16,000 planted by the City Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Ministry of Transportation.
The city’s half-million street trees, often found on the strip of grass between roads and sidewalks, are part of the overall canopy, along with trees in parks and yards.
The Chicago Park District also planted trees this year, which were counted in the 18,000 total, but not included in the city neighborhood breakdown because these trees were planted in parks.
According to slides created for a task force that helps set goals for the Our Roots program, the nearly 16,000 trees planted on public parkways this year were more than last year’s 10,000. Between 2016 and 2020, an average of about 6,000 trees were planted annually in the parkways.
Pilot tree ambassador programs were launched in Little Village and North Lawndale, where volunteers learned how to advocate for trees and submit 311 requests for viable planting sites. Those requests were given priority. Since the first tree ambassador training in June, the city has received 380 applications through the program for 416 trees, some of which will be planted in the spring.
Kimberly George, the community asset manager for Young Men’s Educational Network and tree ambassador, describes these trees as an investment in her community. In one of the gardens where she works, there are two pear trees, planted several decades ago by leaders before her. Now the community reaps the fruits of those trees. The new saplings coming into the neighborhood are a way to pay it forward, she said.
“One day young people will be shaded because of the little work I did and the tree ambassadors do,” she said.
Risa Prezzano, who works with Openlands and is a tree ambassador, said planting these trees is a first step to addressing inequalities. She hopes to see statistics next year on the survival rate of the trees planted through the program.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Prezzano said. “I think it’s just a matter of holding on.”
Part of keeping momentum requires robust canopy planning, Dugan said. The Urban Forestry Advisory Board is part of creating a “common purpose” with a “shared voice,” he said.
Daniella Pereira, vice president of community preservation for Openlands, was recently nominated for the board.
“Having a board dedicated to the strategic care of Chicago’s canopy makes the city stronger and more resilient as it invests in nature-based climate solutions and improves the health and well-being of communities across Chicago,” said Pereira in a statement from Openlands.
In North Lawndale, caring for the new trees, such as newborn babies, “will take up a village,” Fitzpatrick said. But she believes getting everyone involved can change the trajectory of the community. She hopes the trees program will be a catalyst for future programs aimed at helping the neighborhood “bloom” by being vibrant and healthy.
“And what better way to do that than to bring in trees?” she said.