Northeast Ohio Cities Work to Reverse History and Impacts of Tree Canopy Loss - IdeaStream Public Media

In Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, traffic whizzes by on Central Avenue, a street dotted with businesses. If you glance down any of the side streets, you’ll see rows of homes. One thing that’s hard to find, however - trees. Cleveland-native Samira Malone grew up in this neighborhood. She has many fond memories, but she says even as a young girl, she knew there was something missing. “One of the things that always just alarmed me was the fact that there were it was so gray, everything was so gray and brown and built out and very little refuge for, being connected to the environment and Earth.” Malone calls herself a professional tree hugger. She’s director of the Cleveland Tree Coalition, a collaborative urban forestry organization that partners with the city. Through the coalition, Malone works to find ways to reestablish the Forest City’s connection to its roots.

Trees can reduce risk of asthma and cardiovascular disease, and can improve mental health, Malone said. Tree canopy can also cool down communities, driving down utility costs at home. An ideal, healthy baseline for canopy is about 30%, she said, but Cleveland’s numbers are closer to 18%. “If you look at any redlining map, historical policy and practice -- especially disinvestment in Black and brown communities -- is a direct correlation to why there is a disproportionately low tree canopy in Black and brown neighborhoods, primarily concentrated on the east side of Cleveland,” Malone said. The city is currently planting between 3,000 and 5,000 trees each year, Malone said, but meeting the city’s 30% goal will take 28,000 trees and upwards of $100 million.

In Northeast Ohio, a region where growth was driven by its once-booming industrial sector, canopy loss is commonplace. In places like Youngstown, residents know the feeling of lacking trees all too well. Jack Daugherty is the neighborhood stabilization director for the Mahoning Valley TreeCorps. “Our city is struggling to keep after that problem because it's such a big one,” he said. “There are thousands of trees, mature tree lawn trees that are dead or dying and are falling, and that's created a big frustration for folks in their neighborhoods.”

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