On the sidewalk of Eighth Street in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, Barrett Inman—a high school teacher and resident of the block—is showing a group the heart-shaped leaves of an American linden tree, one of several street trees he regularly waters and cares for in his role of Volunteer Tree Ambassador with the Gowanus Tree Network.
“I’m out there spreading the word while drinking my morning coffee and watering. I love caring for street trees because it’s a networking thing—like chatting about the weather but more interesting,” he says. “People don’t know it, but they can help care for the trees on their block, even if they are renters.”
In 2018, Gowanus Canal Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy launched the Gowanus Tree Network to engage and empower stewards like Inman to care for 130 trees over eight blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood. The initiative builds on Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s work over the last decade and a half to advocate and care for ecologically sustainable parks and public spaces in the community.
By cultivating healthy street trees, the Gowanus Tree Network aims to reduce street flooding, improve air quality, lower temperatures during summer months, and improve water quality by lessening the impacts of stormwater on local waterways.
Volunteers mulch and add compost around trees; surround them with flowers and plants; keep tree beds watered and weeded; and, in some instances, install protective guards to help shield trees from the day-to-day hazards of city life―from foot traffic to accidental car strikes and other potential dangers.
Every Tree Has a Story
Now, Gowanus Canal Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy are bringing attention to their growing collaboration through “Meet the Trees,” a public awareness initiative designed to highlight the benefits of a healthy urban forest. In September, the organizations unveiled 34 signs in tree beds throughout the neighborhood and hosted a walking tour to introduce the trees to the community, highlighting the experiences of those who care for them along the way.
“Our trees are a workforce that can help neighborhoods be more resilient in a climate changing world—a critical undertaking in flood-prone areas like Gowanus,” says Emily Nobel Maxwell, The Nature Conservancy’s New York Cities Program Director. “We hope this effort encourages people to get to know their neighborhood trees and be inspired to help them thrive.”
Ultimately, it’s not just trees that are strengthened by the effort, but the community, too.
“As the neighborhood around us changes rapidly due to the EPA Superfund clean-up and the proposed Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning, we are deepening and strengthening our work to engage residents and businesses in stewarding and advocating for our neighborhood,” says Andrea Parker, Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Executive Director. “The Gowanus Tree Network is an opportunity for neighbors to engage directly in shaping sustainable and diverse blocks that improve our urban environment and cultivate a unique sense of place.”
You can be a voice for trees or a champion of your favorite place. Find volunteer opportunities and events near you!