Brooklyn’s ‘urban forest’ grows as more trees are planted, maintained

November 16, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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The canopy of trees in New York City, both on privately-owned land and in parks and other public facilities, has steadily been growing in every borough, according to a recently-released report by the Nature Conservancy, “The State of the Urban Forest NYC.”

Brooklyn as a whole had a change in canopy cover from 2010 to 2017 (the years covered by the report) of 1.91, compared to the citywide average of 1.68, the Nature Conservancy said. “Canopy cover” refers to the amount of land area covered by trees.

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When areas of the city are broken down by “stocking rate,” or the number of street trees compared to estimated capacity for them, areas nearest to Prospect Park, such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Gowanus/Park Slope/Red Hook, and Crown Heights/Prospect Heights, had higher stocking rates. In some places, the stocking rate was as high as 81.72 percent. 

Indeed, Bedford-Stuyvesant saw the second-highest gain in its number of trees in the entire city from 2010 to 2017, with a 3.6 percent gain.

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, praised by the Nature Conservancy for its high quality of care for trees. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

However, the lowest stocking rate of street trees in Brooklyn was in Brighton Beach/Coney Island/Gravesend. There were overall losses in those areas as well as Sheepshead Bay and Canarsie, since those neighborhoods were most often hit by storms. 

Within these neighborhoods, in places where the number of trees increased, it was almost certainly the result of planting after the storms, the report said. Trees in shorefront areas hit by storms are not suddenly knocked down, but are damaged little due to winds, salt water, etc.

There are several factors that contribute to the growth of trees, the Nature Conservancy said. One involves planting of new trees by low-rise homeowners, especially as deteriorating older houses are rehabilitated, or by developers of high-rises who wish to provide trees as an amenity. Another involves planting of new trees within parks themselves. 

A tree-lined street in Stuyvesant Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Eagle file photo by Raanan Geberer

Yet another involves the fact that existing trees are growing in size, both vertically and horizontally. For example, a diagram within the report, “Canopy Change within Breukelen Houses,” shows that this NYCHA development in Canarsie had a net tree-canopy gain of seven acres, both from new tree plantings and because of the growth of existing trees, providing more shade.

The report also talks about groups responsible for planting and maintaining the tree canopy. These include the Parks Department itself, support groups within the parks, and private groups. 

In particular, the report singles out the Gowanus Tree Network, formed in 2018 as an effort to care for 130 trees in that particular neighborhood. One of many photos in the report also shows volunteers from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (one of the partners in the Gowanus Tree Network) caring for a rain garden on Sixth Street near the canal.

Volunteers with the Gowanus Tree Network care for a street tree in their neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Gowanus Canal Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy, in the report, also reports approvingly about how Green-Wood Cemetery and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden foster the growth of trees. At Green-Wood Cemetery, for example, “the entire tree collection is mapped and digitized, and management is tracked through time.” In 2018, for example, 98 trees deemed unsound or in poor health were removed, and 300 new trees were planted. 

As for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it not only takes care of its own trees, with paid arborists on staff, but sponsors the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn,” in which neighborhood blocks compete to make their blocks greener through streetscape planting. The BBG itself has more than 100 tree and woody-plant species.

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