Last Wednesday, the group joined local elected officials and community partners to plant its 500th new tree in the neighborhood since 2015. The American Elm was the fifth new tree planted on Leonard Street since the fall.
The project is funded by a grant from the Greenpoint Environmental Community Fund (GCEF), a state-administered program created by money obtained through a settlement with ExxonMobil over its oil spill. Greening Greenpoint has received nearly $4 million in grant money and matching funds to date.
According to stewardship outreach coordinator Sophia Wohl, in addition to planting new trees, the project also expands tree beds, increases permeable surfaces and get residents involved in the care of trees.
Greening Greenpoint plans to plant 120 more trees to reach a total of 620 by June 2019.
“This tree represents, to me, that projects like this are possible in cities as big as New York,” Wohl said. “You can have a local focus and really make a big, visible difference in a neighborhood.”
Bill Schmidt, community coordinator and forester with the project, said traditionally the neighborhood didn’t have a lot of trees given its industrial history. That means residents have lacked the benefits of trees, such as reducing the heat island effect, clean air and cooler buildings, for generations.
“There’s been a lot of new construction going on,” he said. “Citywide, even with all the trees we’re planting, we’re not keeping up with the rate of loss.”
Schmidt said beyond the environmental effects, trees are also pleasing to look at in a community.
“Aesthetically, they look beautiful. People like the way they look,” he said. “There’s a difference when you go to a tree-lined street, then you go to one without. You feel the difference, even if you don’t know it.”
A veteran of the Million Tree Project, Schmidt said he was there when the first tree was planted in 2007, and when the last one was planted in 2015. Even planting 500 trees, for a neighborhood like Greenpoint, is always a challenge, he said.
“It’s been something that this project has worked for,” he said. “It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction that we got to that, and we’re actually exceeding the 500 trees.”
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said when he was growing up in north Brooklyn, there weren’t too many trees around. Now, he said, Greenpoint is a better place to live because it’s greener.
“We know it’s important for the environment,” he said. “We know we need a lot of green space in order to help our environment survive.”
Peter Washburn, an environmental policy advisor with the New York Attorney General’s office, said their office wanted to make sure the $19.5 million in settlement funds was used properly.
To date, 46 grants totaling $54 million, including $37.6 million in matching funds, have been invested to make Greenpoint greener and more sustainable.
“The community, for generations, is going to benefit from what we were able to do here,” he said. “That was the point of the money and it’s what we hoped would come about.”
He recalled that one of the first projects completed by GCEF was a mural depicting both the history and the hope for the future of Greenpoint.
With more trees coming to the neighborhood, Greenpoint will begin to look more like the future that residents had dreamed of.
“The result of that investment is going to be generations of a healthier and happier community,” Washburn said.