Befriending trees

Trees are one of those things that seem to be staring us right in the face and which we only now “rediscover” through renewed walks in parks during the pandemic, and the need to face the climate crisis, where trees have shown the ability “to reduce city temperatures, absorb carbon dioxide and soak up excess rainfall.”

Central Melbourne, a small municipality in the centre of the greater Melbourne metropolitan area, is showing that “befriending” trees by taking care of them, tracking their health, and adding more and more of them (they plan to plant 3,000 trees a year over the next decade), can have positive results on the health of the trees and the citizens.

To help the process, their teams have been monitoring the health of their trees, compiling that information, and even making it available on a public website, Melbourne Urban Forest.

Called the Urban Forest Visual, the map displayed each of the 80,000 trees in its parks and streets, and showed each tree’s age, species and health. It also gave each tree its own email address so that people could help to monitor them and alert council workers to any specific problems.

By the way, it’s not mentioned in the piece but Montréal has similar programs, and makes the data open to the public, prompting a citizen to map them in a similar fashion, using that data.

As mentioned above, the team in Central Melbourne also created individual emails for each tree, so that citizens could report issues, but then:

City officials were surprised to see the trees receiving thousands of love letters. They ranged from jaunty greetings — “good luck with the photosynthesis” — to love poems and emotional tributes about how much joy the trees brought to people’s lives.

Sidenote: this kind of participation is reminiscent of a fun project from a few years ago, now available in various places through Hello Lamp Post.

“It’s no good planting millions of trees if you are not going to have the community buy-in to sustain the long-term support you need to make a success of those trees, and if you look around the world at that sort of community engagement with trees, Melbourne’s experience is just amazing.”

If you’ve ever walked into a tree-covered park in the midst of a heatwave, you already know how much cooler the air can be, and the pleasant feeling is evermore needed in denser cities during multiplying heatwaves.

“We are determined to keep at it for the long term because keeping the city cool by planting trees is the single most cost-effective thing we can do to mitigate against climate change,” he said, noting that a healthy tree canopy can reduce a city’s temperature by 4 degrees to 6 degrees Celsius, or 7.2 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maybe it’s time for everyone to hug a tree ;-).

Image: Lemon-scented gum trees were planted in 2016 along Flinders Street, on the edge of Melbourne’s central business district. The native trees replaced mature London plane trees. Alana Holmberg for The New York Times.