First Spanish-language tree planting program aims to make North Philly more green

The first bilingual Tree Tenders session will be held in Hunting Park.

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Pennsylvania Horticultural Society / Facebook
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It’s taken 10 years, but Philly’s tree-planting program is now finally accessible to residents who speak Spanish.

The city’s Greenworks plan, which has the lofty aspiration to turn Philadelphia into the greenest city in the U.S., was announced by then-Mayor Michael Nutter back in 2008. In the decade since, Mayor Jim Kenney has continued the efforts, along with various city departments, including the Office of Sustainability and Parks & Rec, and also the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Part of the plan calls for planting enough trees that 30 percent of the urban grid is shaded by their branches.

Hunting Park is far from meeting that goal. The North Philly neighborhood has a much lower rate of tree cover — about 3.9 percent, according to Gabriella Paez.

Paez, the education and community development coordinator at nonprofit organization Esperanza, thinks the problem is a language barrier. The population in the area is 65 percent Spanish-speaking, and Philly’s tree-planting programs are English-only. Now, thanks to Paez’s advocacy — and a grant from the Green Streets program — that’s about to change.

In partnership with Esperanza, PHS will host its first-ever Tree Tenders bilingual training session next month.

Set in Hunting Park, the training will begin on April 4 with a sit-down class, and end on April 7 with the planting of 16 trees on the 400 block of West Cayuga Street.

Later this spring, PHS will also distribute the first Spanish-language Tree Tenders manuals.

“It’s been challenging…to get the word out about our programs in certain parts of the city,” Dana Dentice, the Plant One Million manager at PHS, told Billy Penn. “That’s been one of our goals, to reach those neighborhoods that are primarily Spanish-speaking.”

Since its inception in 1993, the program has been responsible for adding around 2,000 trees annually. The effort isn’t just about beautification, although that’s one of the most obvious perks. Studies have found that sidewalk greenery can provide health benefits for residents and lower the cost of air conditioning by creating shade.

The program has also graduated more than 4,000 volunteers, certifying that they know how to properly plant and care for urban trees, but on the citywide Tree Tenders map, there is not yet a group specifically dedicated to the Hunting Park neighborhood.

But it could soon form. Residents have already expressed interest, Paez said. She personally drove seven people to an English-language Tree Tenders training in January, and she’s gotten nearly 20 requests from additional neighbors to have trees planted outside their homes.

“Neighbors do want this to happen on their blocks,” she said, adding that she’s flooded with requests — to which she reluctantly responds that the program is currently “at capacity.”

Fortunately, there’s still room for it to grow. In October, PHS plans to host Spanish-language trainings in Philly’s Fairhill neighborhood. Then on Nov. 17, Paez said they’ll return to Hunting Park for a second planting.

“I just imagine 10 years from now how beautiful this block will look,” Paez said. “It’s creating a long-term beautification plan for the neighborhood.”

You can register for a Tree Tenders training session here.

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