NYC borough presidents unite over new ‘Million More Trees’ initiative

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

The city’s five borough presidents — Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn, Mark Levine of Manhattan, Vito Fossella of Staten Island, Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx and Donovan Richards of Queens — made a rare alliance recently to call on Mayor Eric Adams to step up his work on the city’s greenspace.

They announced a new “Million More Trees” initiative during a joint press conference at City Hall on Feb. 14.

Their plan is to build off the original “Million Trees” initiative from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that was completed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio. The group is calling for another million trees to be planted throughout the five boroughs in parks and greenspaces, but also on streets.

“Trees are so much more than just pretty to look at,” Levine said at the press conference. “They are key weapons in our fight against climate change.”

Trees are beneficial in multiple ways. They’re effective for flood and mudslide prevention because they absorb water and form  obstacles for flood waters or mud to flow freely.

They also create shade, which lowers  surface temperature directly beneath them and the air temperature in the general area.  “Individual trees have highly local impacts, including shading buildings, sidewalks, and public spaces, and improving air quality along high-traffic streets,” Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning Dean J. Meejin Yoon said in a Cornell press release.

“These cumulative effects give value to a city. Developing modern tools to study these impacts and plant based on equity and effectiveness is vital to a city’s future.”

Despite the many benefits to urban trees and greenspace, the city is only 22% covered in tree canopy, and 25% of the trees planted in the original “Million Trees” initiative died.

The city has about 7 million trees, which is less than one per person since New York City has around 8.8 million residents. Around 650,000 of those trees are on city streets, while the rest are in parks and greenspaces.

Unfortunately, these trees, and greenspaces and parks, are unevenly distributed not just through the boroughs, but also across neighborhoods. Upper class and white neighborhoods tend to have more trees than neighborhoods with lower income families and people of color.

The borough presidents’ initiative would be executed more equitably than the past initiative, hopefully bringing trees to the areas with the least.

“Million More Trees” would bring about 250,000 more trees to streets and the rest would go to parks. The effort is expected to cost around $500 million.

Something unusual about this plan, though, is that it comes from an agreement between all borough presidents, as the five officials typically work separately on their own boroughs. Four of the five positions are currently held by Democrats, with Fossella being the only Republican.

The borough presidents, however, said they understand that New Yorkers are tired of partisan politics and want real change in their communities.

“I think it’s refreshing,” Fossella said. “At a time when politics is so polarizing, people can’t stand each other, people fighting over everything, I think there’s a good chunk of people who just want people in public office to work together.”

Reynoso agreed with the Staten Island borough president.

“Trees don’t care about political parties,” he said. “They just want to get planted.”