CHICAGO (WLS) — There’s an ongoing effort to bring more trees to underserved Chicago communities.
Volunteers and environmentalists from environmental defense organization Openlands, along with sponsors UPS and Arbor Day Foundation, dig deep and get dirt to beautify.
“It’s important to think beyond just tomorrow,” said Corporate Volunteer Carlos Huezo. “We are really investing in the future and ultimately in our future for our generations and our children as well.”
RELATED | A new data tool powering a multi-million dollar plan to fairly plant trees in Chicago neighborhoods
The volunteers planted 25 trees in La Villita Park in Little Village on Wednesday as part of Openlands’ work to add a tree canopy to parts of the city historically left behind.
“It’s so important to just say not only that we need to clean up the industrial waste in these neighborhoods, but we need to double down on green space and nature,” said Openlands volunteer Laura Derks.
Data from the Chicago Regional Initiative’s latest tree census shows that Chicago’s tree canopy needs help.
In the past 10 years, Chicago’s tree canopy has decreased from 19% to 16% according to the census. Areas of concern are linked to Chicago’s history of poverty, racism, the environment and health.
The neighborhoods with the lowest canopy are on the South and West Sides, some with less than 10% coverage. Neighborhoods with the highest canopy tend to be on the North Side of the city, with Forest Glen at the top of the list with 46% coverage.
The areas of Chicago with the lowest average canopy cover received the lowest grade below historical redline.
Tree census data shows that the Little Village area has only 11% tree canopy.
“There’s a saying among tree people that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right away,” said Tom Ebeling, Openlands Community Arborist.
Volunteers said that while the new trees are small now, they are love letters to the future, especially in heavily industrialized areas like Little Village.
“Tree canopy is one of the major environmental issues that we can work on in a very tangible way as a community,” Ebeling said.
In April 2022, the city announced a plan to plant 75,000 trees in five years. The city said it planted 18,000 trees in 2022, exceeding their goal of 15,000 for that year.
To find out how you can apply for a tree for your yard, visit the City of Chicago or Openlands websites for more information.