The old story: Southeast Baltimore is a gray wasteland, according to city tree-canopy maps.
The new reality: Those maps are outdated and grow more obsolete by the week.
The Southeast Community Development Corp., in partnership with other organizations like Parks & People Foundation and Blue Water Baltimore, has been at the forefront of a sustained push to add trees to the landscape, most recently with the help of a $75,000 grant from Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The 350-plus trees included in this initiative – just the most recent in an effort that goes back a decade – are being planted to connect existing tree plantings while expanding the overall tree canopy in the Greater Highlandtown neighborhood.
Andy Dahl, Coordinator of Neighborhood Programs, described the change along the 3200 and 3300 blocks of Leverton Avenue, a short stretch of residential street in Baltimore Highlands.
“The block had maybe two trees before, and maybe 20 now,” Dahl said. “It’s a complete transformation, to go from a barren gray lookto fresh, green trees.”
The benefits go far beyond aesthetics.
Trees fight the “urban heat island effect,” a temperature increase in cities or neighborhoods exacerbated by a lack of vegetation. According to Parks and People Foundation, trees in Baltimore City reduce 700 metric tons of air pollution every year, all the while reducing energy costs by cooling neighborhoods, and cleaning storm water.
More trees also have a positive effect on the water quality of the harbor. Since they can’t be planted in cement, more trees mean more pervious surface. Unlike sidewalk and road surfaces, these tree pits naturally filter stormwater as it makes its way through the Harris Creek watershed and down to the bay.
The Southeast CDC has recently planned two community tree-planting events – one held October 1 at Archbishop Borders School, the other to be held November 5 on the unit block of S. East Avenue at Lombard Street.
Amanda Smit-Peters, Highlandtown Main Street manager for the Southeast CDC, organized the Archbishop Borders planting.
“People came out in the rain,” she said. “We had Hoehn’s doughnuts and High Grounds coffee,” she added, referencing two key businesses of the Highlandtown Main Street district.
Leading the planting workshop were representatives from the Parks & People Foundation. They provided a lesson on planting and care of street trees. Residents learned how to properly measure the depth of a tree pit and used the “donut” method for applying mulch so that it does not touch the base of the tree.
The Healthy Harbor Initiative by the Waterfront Partnership also participated by leading watershed activities for youth that encourage returning clean water to the bay.
Additionally, the partnership with Parks & People Foundation goes beyond the community planting workshops. Parks & People is providing most of the heavy lifting by hiring contractors and crews to open tree pits in sidewalks and properly plant trees, which can weigh over 200lbs each.
“Back in the day, the Southeast CDC actually coordinated all aspects of the tree planting, including a lot of the physical work,” Dahl said. “Now we’re working with organizations that do it all, from cutting the concrete to planting the tree.”
Dahl said that the overall response to the new trees has been more than positive. The Southeast CDC has conducted outreach in English and Spanish to those living near planting sites for help with watering, especially during the summer months. Trees need help the first two years, Dahl said, to “survive and thrive.”
Another important push the Southeast CDC made was to ensure that a two-year watering contract be included for as many trees as possible. “At first, we focused on making sure trees in the commercial district had a watering contract in place,” said Smit-Peters, “but Parks and People was able to provide the additional funds to water all the trees we plant for the next two years, which will ensure their health.” After that, the sky’s the limit.
“You can imagine how great it’s going to look in five years,” said Dahl.
To participate in the Saturday, November 5 tree planting contact Andy Dahl at 410-342-3234 ext 32 or click here.