Manchester plans to bring more trees to central neighborhoods
New Hampshire's largest city is partnering with environmental groups to plant 500 trees over the next several years. The city recently received $2.2 million in federal grants to plant and maintain its urban trees.
Arnold Mikolo is an environmental justice advocate for the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the organizations that helped apply for the grant. He says there's been an unequal distribution of trees in Manchester.
“It's very obvious to see because when you walk around, you can count the number of street trees with one hand,” said Mikolo, referring to central Manchester. “Compare [that] to other parts of the city, like the North End of Manchester [where] there's so much tree cover.”
Mikolo spoke with NHPR’s All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa about the project.
What will this project look like?
Well, first and foremost, I just want to say that this was in the works for the longest time—I want to say for the last three years. We did a survey, which is an ongoing survey, and one of the things that the community members, especially in the Center City of Manchester, keep bringing up was the fact that it's too hot. Especially in the summer. It's very obvious to see because when you walk around, you can count the number of street trees with one hand. Compare [that] to other parts of the city, like the North End of Manchester [where] there's so much tree cover.
Could you define what you mean by ‘Center City?’
Geographically speaking, it's actually in the center of Manchester. So we're talking about the Kalivas Union neighborhoods, [such as] Beech, Maple, Pine and Chestnut streets. But also it's by other metrics. It's one of the most disadvantaged parts of the city of Manchester, where you have more condensed apartments, and you have more people renting versus homeowners. So when we talk about Manchester Center City, we really are talking about low income communities and communities of color. But also it just so happens to be at the center of Manchester.
What will the rollout of this project look like logistically?
The goal here is to plant about 500 trees. The city already had a program, which was called the 50/50 Program, and the goal was to match 50% of the cost of a tree. So when we had a meeting with the Manchester Parks and Recreation, one of the urban foresters brought up the fact that one tree can cost up to $6,000. This is just planting and maintaining [the tree] until it grows. That's a lot of money for a lot of people who don't have $6,000 or even $3,000 sitting in a bank just to plant a tree. So the difference is that the urban forestry grants will provide those 500 trees free of charge.
We're also going to have a tree ambassador, somebody whose job is to go into a community and make sure that these trees are growing. The other aspect of this grant would be to have the community engaged in the process, because that's what it's all about. Environmental justice, really, is to engage communities, especially those that are burdened by the environmental disadvantage they did not create. So [it looks like] having the community engaged in the process, making sure they're educated about what a tree would look like or what kind of tree they'd like to see, but also on how they can maintain it from when it's planted all the way to its maturity.
I heard you say that people are dealing with an environmental disadvantage they did not create. Why do some neighborhoods in the city have more trees than others? Why do some have less?
Well, I like to say it's by design. It's not by accident. Your zip code determines the environmental benefits, the environmental access you have. Your zip code can determine your life expectancy. Your zip code can determine the quality of life you’re living.
The 50/50 tree program that I mentioned—the fact that you see all these trees [in the] North End of Manchester, it's not by accident. It's because people [there] applied for this program about 30 years ago. Today, what we're seeing is mature trees. We're seeing more tree cover, more tree canopy. And 30 years ago, the same communities in the Center City probably didn't even know about this program and didn't take advantage of this program. So that continued the cycle of environmental injustices. You have resources that community members are not aware of or they don't even have the resources to access, and 30 years later, they find themselves in precarious conditions where they are carrying the burden. So that's why this grant was really critical for us to take advantage of and to bring all these stakeholders, making sure that communities are now applying for it and hopefully reap these benefits 10, 20 years down the road.