There is likely no greater value to a city’s environment that trees. They provide the oxygen we breathe while filtering pollution in the air. Trees supply shade for those on the ground and shelter for animals above. They raise property values and give character to communities. Some trees bear fruit while others simply provide comfort. They reduce the heat island effect while managing urban stormwater runoff. To plant a million trees in the City of Long Beach would make an incredible impact on the health of the local environment and its citizens. While some might decry this idea as unoriginal because of Los Angeles’s attempted to embark on the same initiative, it is truly bold because Long Beach is an eighth the size of its larger brother. To visually quantify a million trees, imagine a canopy of trees that covers eight square miles of the city’s surface.
To take on such a massive city-wide effort would require a systematic plan with the cooperation of residents, community groups, businesses and government, each doing their part to plant and maintain the vegetative canopy over the city. Beginning with residents, each of the nearly seventy-thousand single-family homes in the city can provide fertile ground for two or three trees, encompassing nearly twenty percent of the designated goal. Apartment complexes could enhance their common courtyards with multiple trees livening up the communal grounds while contributing to the city-wide greening effort.
Many neighborhood groups already do tree planting events on their city streets as community beautification projects. The city often supports these efforts through tree planting grants that include free adolescent trees and the use of city-owned tools for the planting events. The Neighborhood Services Bureau in recent years has been responsible for spearheading the planting of over twenty thousand trees; continuing the program or even expanding it with the assistance of Redevelopment Agency resources would serve the city well.
Recently a colleague of mine was part of an effort by parents to plant over forty trees at their local elementary school. Every summer, the recess areas for a portion of Long Beach Unified School District’s campuses are resurfaced, presenting the opportunity to plant additional trees. The school district controls over seven hundred acres of land within Long Beach providing ample opportunities to plant new trees directly through the administration or through Parent and Teacher Associations.
With over ten percent of the city covered by streets, parking lots and other paved surfaces there is a tremendous opportunity to make every street tree-lined, and create vegetated canopies over every parking lot in the city. Long Beach’s new green building ordinance addresses new construction by requiring them to create tree canopies over vehicular areas within five years of completion. The city can take a page from other cities like Sacramento by implementing parking lot canopy programs that assist retrofitting existing lots with new trees.
The Chamber of Commerce can contribute to this urban forestry effort by creating a local carbon offset program for local companies to take responsibility of planting trees annually based on an agreeable metric. The Convention Center and Visitors Bureau can offer carbon offsets for travelers coming to Long Beach where trees are planted in their name based on their distance traveled and mode of transportation. These programs would rely upon the growing public awareness of the pollution created through our daily lives.
The thousand acres of new open space we created in Bold Idea #10 combined with the four hundred acres of new campus instituted in Bold Idea #4 and the hundreds of acres of natural area provided through Bold Idea #3 would result in over one hundred thousand new trees within the city. Earlier posts about road diets and pedestrian friendly improvements have highlighted hundreds of miles of opportunities for new parkways, curb extensions and planted medians providing nearly a thousand acres of landscape area for new street trees.
Even with volunteers contributing to this initiative, the funds required to plant a million trees would logically be in the tens of millions, especially when including the cost of maintenance. Funds can be found through grants, development impact fees, charitable donations and voluntary carbon offset programs. While lacking the dazzle of an internationally designed museum or elevated monorail, a million new trees in Long Beach would fundamentally alter the aesthetics, health, environment and economy of Long Beach. There will not be a single ribbon cutting or grand opening, instead this will be an initiative that takes place over a decade (or longer), with tens of thousands of golden shovels used to dig the holes for those million trees.