Cool Things Wit Cool People is a monthly column by Akeem Dixon focusing on community development. To ask a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out @akeemdixon.
Everyone loves trees. They are relaxing and offer peace and tranquility.
I’m not referring to the country’s recent fascination with marijuana and dispensaries. Instead, we’re talking about the old-school plants that offer shade and beautify communities. The kind that we dream of climbing, that could hold a swing, that could protect our homes from excessive sun rays.
In this edition of Dear Akeem, we’ll learn about TreePhilly, a program of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation that provides free trees to Philadelphians. Its Community Yard Tree Giveaway program provides grants to community-based organizations — CDCs, cultural nonprofits, schools and the like — so they can host their own giveaway events where TreePhilly offers free trees, mulch and education to local residents. Past participants include the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition, PowerCorpsPHL and the Muslim Youth Center of Philadelphia.
Heads up: Apps for orgs interested in hosting yard tree giveaway events are due this Friday, Aug. 31.
TreePhilly Program Manager Erica Smith Fichman chats with us here about origin of the organization, the design of its programming and how trees make neighborhoods better.
Akeem Dixon: Tell us about the background of TreePhilly. Free trees, resources and breaking up cement is pretty intense and expensive. Who funds the program? Who benefits from it?
Erica Smith Fichman: Tree Philly is a program of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, in partnership with Fairmount Park Conservancy, and sponsored by TD Bank. Our goal is to increase the tree canopy in the city to 30 percent canopy cover in every neighborhood, and the way we’ve tried to do that is by helping Philadelphia residents plant trees on their own private property.
The flagship program of TreePhilly is the Community Yard Tree Giveaway program, where we give away free trees for people to plant in their yards every spring and fall. We also provide educational materials and tree planting and care demonstrations at each event, along with free mulch to take home with your tree.
These trees are only for private property, so we don’t plant them for people or break up people’s concrete for this program, but we do direct people to other programs like the Philadelphia Water Department’s Rain Check program, where they can get assistance in doing some of that work.
This fall season, all of our events will be hosted by community groups. We provide trees, expertise and support so they can host a tree giveaway in their own neighborhood. We’re trying to make it so that there are more events in more neighborhoods across the city, so more people can get free trees!
AD: If there were a toolkit for gentrification, it would possibly include: cafés, yoga studios, murals, bike racks and … trees. How does TreePhilly balance supporting the organized community organizations that are at times comprised of newer residents vs. the block captains and community leaders that have done organizing “unofficially” for some time?