A crew of urban foresters paid a visit to Marble Hill last spring. They were on a mission to breathe new life into a pair of barren tree pits on Broadway and West 230th Street.
An arborist carefully selected this bustling juncture in the Bronx to become home to a young tree lilac and a dawn redwood.
Marble Hill’s two new saplings come courtesy of a $5,000 boost Bronx Community Board 8 received last fiscal year in city council discretionary funding from former councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. The only parameters stated in the budget were to “support Council District 10 initiatives.”
Councilwoman Carmen De La Rosa kept the funding in place when she took office last year.
But CB8 found itself in a pinch over how to quickly make use of the funds. Chair Laura Spalter said she feared they’d be lost at the start of the new fiscal year.
By the time the trees were en route to the Bronx, the city’s planting season was long over. Conditions are ideal for new trees when the weather cools.
This might have presented a problem if the parks department was footing the bill. But the work order was covered by an outside grant, denoted officially in work order records and the parks budget as the “Tree Trust.”
CB8 members shared their dismay when they learned in late spring the funds were being used to plant trees. Procurement rules require a vote to take place on such large sums.
“Those trees were planted last week in Marble Hill and we’re really excited to get that done,” said district manager Ciara Gannon in CB8’s June 29, 2022 full board meeting.
The plan had already been executed.
CB8 issued a $5,000 check to The City Parks Foundation June 24. It’s a rock-bottom price for two new trees in New York City.
Planting a single street tree in the Bronx costs the parks department $3,000, according to the agency’s 2023 valuation protocol.
Each planting is a baby step towards the 80,000 trees the parks department has set out to plant over the next four years with $136 million in funding the mayor committed to last year. The department’s capital budget covers the majority of the costs.
But tree stewards have recently been turning to public-private partnerships to help pick up the slack in interesting ways.
In fact a framework for skipping the city’s procurement process has been in place since “Tree Time” came into being in 1994.
The program gained momentum during former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Million Trees NYC campaign. With a sufficient donation to the City Parks Foundation, anyone can order a new street tree, and the parks department will plant it faster at a fraction of the cost.
Brooklyn council member Lincoln Restler is one taking matters into his own hands with a project he’s dubbed the District 33 Tree Fund, which has a goal of planting 3,400 street trees over the next four years.
The parks department will plant 2,200 at a cost of about $7.7 million. Restler’s office will fund the rest through Tree Time, using a combination of discretionary funds and donations.
If all goes according to plan, he says it will cut the cost down to about $2,600 per tree.
In response to inquiries from The Riverdale Press, Jeanna Chin, a spokesperson for the nonprofit City Parks Foundation, said: “To clarify, City Parks Foundation is the fiscal administrator for this particular program, meaning that we facilitate the Parks department getting the funding from us and then they control the actual planning and implementation of the funds.”
Chin said any questions about who planted the trees in Marble Hill and for how much should go to the parks department.
“Our goal is to plant as many trees as possible to expand and maintain a healthy, resilient tree canopy for the benefit of New Yorkers,” Parks press officer Chris Clark said.
He said 2022 was a milestone tree planting season for the department, and they’re “excited to add even more trees to our city.”
Spalter said she wasn’t sure who selected the location for the trees or the species.
If it’s hardy enough, the new tree lilac in front of the post office on Broadway will bloom in early summer, producing fragrant white flower clusters.
At its full height, it may one day brush up against the subway tracks overhead, soaking up 200 gallons of stormwater annually and deflecting the radiant heat of the sun in July.
The last tree in this location lived for six years. The parks department removed it in 2014.
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.