Outdoor space more vital than ever during COVID-19 pandemic
TreePhilly, a Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and Fairmount Park Conservancy program long supported by TD Bank, seeks to cool the city and improve residents’ well-being. The program also addresses inequities that can cause significantly higher rates of health issues for those in low-income communities by planting thousands of trees each year in city parks and giving them to residents to plant in their own yards.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of safe, shaded outdoor spaces for everyone.
“It’s very clear now more than ever that outdoor space is extremely important to the physical and emotional health of city residents,” said Erica Smith Fichman, Community Forestry Manager for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, which helps oversee TreePhilly and related planting projects. “The work of TreePhilly is to basically cultivate the urban forest, which people think of as the woods, somewhere else — to remind people that the urban forest is all of the trees in the city, and you can do your part to maintain the urban forest by planting a tree in your yard.”
TreePhilly and related Philadelphia programs sponsored by TD Bank distribute free yard trees to residents, plant others along streets and in parklands, teach residents how to maintain trees, and provide workforce development training and education to crew members hired to care for trees in parks and playgrounds.
Philadelphia’s tree canopy now stands at 20 percent citywide but isn’t distributed equitably, with wealthier neighborhoods enjoying more green and shade. The city aims to increase the canopy to at least 30 percent in every neighborhood by 2025.
A recent U.S. Forest Service-led study published in The Lancet underscores the importance of TreePhilly’s work and affiliated efforts to expand Philadelphia’s urban forest. If Philadelphia meets the 30 percent goal, it would prevent more than 400 premature deaths a year — more than half of them in lower socioeconomic status areas — the researchers found.
“Urban greenspace can be regarded as a preventive public health measure. For individuals who have access, parks, gardens, trees, and forests can contribute to improved quality of life by improving mental health, increasing opportunities for social interactions and physical activity, and reducing stress, crime and violence,” the study’s authors wrote.
The findings show “how powerful nature is and what it can really do for the residents of the city,” Erica said.
Reducing the ‘heat island effect’
More trees can help cool urban environments through shading neighborhoods and reducing the “heat island effect” in which brick and concrete absorb and hold heat, leaving some communities as much as 22 degrees hotter than other areas.
“There’s a lot that trees do to increase air quality and water quality in the city,” Erica said.
The pandemic hit shortly before TreePhilly’s spring 2020 yard-tree giveaway, forcing a significant scaling back. Organizers expect to distribute at least 1,000 trees this fall, close to the usual amount, adding to the roughly 25,000 trees for yards distributed since 2012.
TreePhilly and its partners also plan to work this fall on a strategic plan for the city’s urban forest for the next decade, revisiting existing goals.
TD, which started supporting TreePhilly in 2016, expanded its partnership to improve environmental health and increase green spaces in underserved Philadelphia neighborhoods from 2019 to 2021. The partnership is part of the bank’s goal to plant a million new trees across North America by 2030 through its TD Ready Commitment to communities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased our community’s appreciation for trees and parks,” said Michael Carbone, Regional President, TD Bank. “We recognize the valuable role green spaces play in maintaining both physical and emotional wellness, which is more important now than ever before. TD is proud to support TreePhilly in its mission to green Philadelphia, especially in the face of current challenges. We’re excited to see their fall plans in action, which will ensure our citizen tree canopy continues to grow and flourish.”
TD involved in tree-planting programs throughout footprint
While TreePhilly is a critical part of TD’s efforts to help grow urban greenspace, the bank also supports other programs throughout its footprint. TD Tree Days, the company’s flagship urban greening program, demonstrates the bank’s leadership in environmental protections in local communities and positively impacts many low- and-moderate-income neighborhoods.
While in-person TD Tree Days events were canceled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, over 2,800 trees will be planted in 2020 through the bank’s funding of 18 projects from Maine to Florida and in Michigan. Since the start of the program in 2010, TD colleagues and community members have planted more than 435,000 trees across the bank’s North American footprint.