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Top 4 Reasons to Hug a Tree
Paldon Dolma

As I walked into Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan with my YCteen editors and fellow writers, I felt a peaceful sensation gradually creeping under my skin. There were trees swaying in the breeze, birds chirping, insects crawling in the water fountain, and sparkling butterflies sunning themselves on top of flowers.

Under one gigantic tree it was cool and shady, a place where you would want to picnic with your family. The air felt clean, natural, and green. Compared to midtown Manhattan, which has crowds of cars producing unhealthy emissions and few trees, the park felt like another planet.

I was noticing how the trees affect the environment because we were on our way to meet Max Litt, the forestry manager at a program called MillionTreesNYC. The goal of the program is to plant one million trees all over the five boroughs. It was introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007, and is a public-private initiative led by the city’s Parks Department and a non-profit called the New York Restoration Project.

There are many reasons to make the city greener, but Litt explained some of the most important ones:

1. Trees Can Reduce Asthma

“MillionTreesNYC is looking to plant a million trees, but we’re also looking to improve air quality, to reduce childhood asthma hospitalizations in neighborhoods with low tree counts,” Litt said.

How can trees lower asthma hospitalizations? Well, trees help eliminate dust and carbon dioxide, which are triggers for asthma. In fact, “one tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, the equivalent of 11,000 miles of car emission,” according to MillionTreesNyc.org.

When the program started, the first neighborhoods to get trees were those with the highest childhood asthma hospitalization rates. “They wanted to look for areas where air quality was especially poor and use trees as a way to counter that,” Litt said.

2. Trees Keep You Cooler in the Summer and Warmer in the Winter

image by Terrence Taylor

Did you know that planting trees near your house or building can reduce the heat during summer? The shade of the tree keeps your home cooler, reducing your need for air conditioning. This benefits you because it results in lower electricity bills. Not only that, but it’s also saving energy.

Trees can also help in winter, when you walk down the gloomy streets wearing thick layers and your cheeks turn blood red from the freezing wind. Litt explained that trees block the wind, which reduces heating needs in the winter.

3. Trees Help Keep Our Water Clean

Litt explained that when it rains, the water picks up whatever pollutants are hanging out in the street, and that water eventually makes its way into our rivers and oceans. This harms our water quality. However, tree beds—the places where trees are planted—intercept some of that water, which sinks into the beds’ soil. This halts pollutants from traveling into the rivers and ocean.

4. Trees Make People and Animals Happy

When I am surrounded by trees and flowers, I have a more positive attitude and I feel an aura of tranquility. I think that is true for a lot of people. Squirrels, birds, and insects can also share the positive outcome of MillionTreesNYC because they will have one million more places to live in and eat. There are 50 different kinds of trees being planted, so there will be a variety of natural beauty to enjoy.

Getting Involved

After four years, the program is already halfway to its goal. There are several ways to get involved if you want to help them finish the project: You can adopt a tree, attend workshops, notify relatives and friends about the program, and make donations.

I called 311 and got an application to plant a tree. There are three papers to scan and a lot of processes to go through, so I still haven’t gotten the chance to register—but I am sure I will!

For more information, go to MillionTreesNYC.org

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