By Meiko S. Patton
According to the Genesis account, humankind’s foreparents were banned from eating the fruit of the “tree of life” because they allegedly would have lived forever. Can a tree truly possess such life-sustaining properties? That’s debatable, but what isn’t is the environmental and social benefits trees bring. That’s why for 20 years the Urban Corps of San Diego County has been dedicated to providing environmental job training and educational opportunities in the fields of conservation, recycling and urban forestry, among others.
The Urban Corps of San Diego County, a “green” job-training program for youth, will plant more than 2,000 trees in public spaces throughout the City of San Diego in 2010 under their Urban Forestry Program, according to CEO Sam Duran. To date, more than 10,000 trees have been planted in San Diego thanks to Urban Corps.
“In fact, 5 percent of all public trees in San Diego County have been planted by Corps members,” said Klara Arter, Urban Corps communications manager.
Urban Corps is promoting the idea of an “urban forest” – trees and vegetation in and around a town or city environment. Like a natural forest, an urban forest is an entire ecosystem that includes trees on both public and private property. Just like a natural forest, each year San Diego loses thousands of urban trees to damage, neglect and new development. However, unlike a natural forest, an urban forest usually needs help from people to survive.
That’s why an invitation is being extended to all San Diego residents to request a free tree to be planted in a public-right-of-way, or to organize a community-wide planting day, in exchange for signing a watering agreement as a promise of volunteer maintenance.
Funding from Community Development Block Grants provides free street trees. Urban Corps will plant your free trees in your public right-of-way approximately 8 to 16 weeks after the tree watering agreement has been signed. Before planting, Urban Corps will do a site analysis of your property, notify dig alert to mark underground utilities and apply for a street tree permit. The tree watering agreement is available at urbancorpssd.org.
There is a variety of trees to choose from depending on parkway size. These include Crape Myrtle, Hong Kong Orchid, African Sumac, Bradford Pear, Gold Medallion, Chinese Flame Tree, Chinese Pistache and the Jacaranda tree.
“I was familiar with Urban Corps, having seen all the great work they do throughout San Diego, so when that big empty hole kept staring at me in front of my business, I thought, why not give them a call,” said Alison Whitelaw of Platt/Whitelaw Architects in North Park. “I chose the African Sumac, which is a rounded umbrella-like evergreen tree that attracts many birds.”
Whitelaw was so impressed with Urban Corps’ work that she recently agreed to match donations up to $1000 for the Urban Forestry Program. Platt/Whitelaw Architects publicized the pledge in their annual holiday client mailing.
“We created a holiday card with a graphic of a tree and its roots on it. Everyone loved it,” Whitelaw said.
Trees have many environmental benefits, such as reducing the heat-island effect of urban areas. Leafy shade lowers temperatures and diminishes hot vapors that rise from streets and parking lots. Trees clean the air by combating pollution in exchange for returning oxygen to the atmosphere.
In addition, neighborhoods full of majestic trees improve our aesthetic environment, absorb noise, are traffic calming, reduce stress and crime and create a peaceful place to relax and socialize. Research in a particularly deprived area of inner city Chicago concluded that areas with higher vegetation cover saw a reduction in crime rates compared to areas with little or no green vegetation.
While planting trees to improve San Diego’s neighborhoods, Urban Corps is helping those ages 18-25 attain job training and education. Corps members go to school to earn a high school diploma one day per week and work in the community on environmental projects, such as planting free trees, four days per week. In its two decades, Urban Corps has helped more than 6,500 young adults.
Urban Corps’ effort to provide jobs while at the same time helping the environment has not gone unnoticed. The non-profit organization has garnered several prestigious awards, among them the 2009 Best Urban Forestry Program of the Year Award. This award was bestowed on them for their leadership, innovation, growth and community involvement in creating a consistent and well-managed urban forest.
For more information on free trees or to schedule a community-planting event, consult the Web site or call Urban Forestry Coordinator Ty Sterns at 235-6884, ext. 3312.