Trees, not skyscrapers, will trigger New York City’s next major transformation, observed Timon McPhearson, assistant professor of Urban Ecology at The New School, as he dug a hole to plant a three-foot sapling in Brooklyn’s Marine Park on Saturday, October 23.
McPhearson’s tree was among the 1152 oaks, cherries, tupelos, and other species put into the ground that day, with the help of 18 New School students. The trees were carefully chosen to create three structured plots in Brooklyn and Staten Island, adding to the six established last year in parks across the city. Over the next several years, McPhearson will be collecting data from these nine experimental plots to study the ecological effects of urban trees. The project is part of a long-term, multi-institutional research initiative led by The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center in partnership with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group; Columbia University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology; and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Study.
The experimental plots were established as part of MillionTreesNYC (MTNYC), a massive afforestation program initiated by the Mayor’s office that aims to add one million trees throughout the five boroughs by 2017.
Besides adding green, what can a million new trees do for New York City? They can do much more than provide shade, according to McPhearson. Urban forests deliver essential ecological benefits such as regulating air temperatures, filtering pollution that may positively affect the health of urban residents, trapping rainwater during storms, which prevents pollution of local waterways, and storing carbon dioxide.
MTNYC is a historic forestry effort that forms the basis of a large-scale natural experiment in the most densely populated urban center in the United States,, says McPhearson, who is a member of the MTNYC Advisory Board‘s Subcommittee on Research and Evaluation.
Before joining The New School in 2008, McPhearson, a former National Science Foundation Fellow, conducted research at Columbia’s Earth Institute and worked as an ecologist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. With a PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resource Management from Rutgers University, McPhearson frequently works with local policymakers, planners, and designers on urban sustainability research and education.
Cities are home to more than 50 percent of humanity,, notes McPhearson. Long-term studies of urban ecosystems, such as this one that is underway at The New School, will help ensure we have the ecological information necessary to create much-needed, highly sustainable human ecosystems in the future.,