MetroFocus: April 21, 2021

This year’s Earth Day message is optimism and the theme- to “Restore Our Earth.” In a year in which the deadly pandemic held the globe in its grip and climate change sparked calamities from wildfires to hurricanes, the focus couldn’t be more timely. For many, COVID restrictions and lockdowns have meant a fundamental shift in our relationship with the world around us, highlighting the importance of outdoor spaces to our mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. So today, New Yorkers join millions around the world to the effort to honor our planet. But as America begins to crawl out of the pandemic, there are real questions about the longterm impact it has had on the environment.  And one thing that hasn’t changed is the existential threat of climate change. So, what lessons about nature have we learned over the last year? What does the future of the planet look like in a post-COVID world? And what are some of the local conservation success stories in our area? As part of our ongoing Peril and Promise initiative reporting on the human stories of climate change and its solutions, is Bill Ulfelder, the executive director for the New York Nature Conservancy.

Did you know that if you gathered all of the trees in New York City, there would be enough to make up a forest? These approximately seven million trees are living, breathing parts of the city’s ecosystem, and vital resources to our communities. They clean and cool our air, and provide a connection to nature that can be otherwise hard to find. But this urban forest is not distributed evenly across the five boroughs. According to the New York Nature Conservancy, the neighborhoods with the least tree cover tend to be low-income communities and communities of color. In 2019, they convened a task force to address the problem. Some of the people behind those efforts- Emily Noble Maxwell, Cities Director for The Nature Conservancy in New York and Annel Hernandez, Associate Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, join us tonight.

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, ClimateChange. Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS IS 'METROFOCUS' WITH RAFAEL P. ROMAN, JACK FORD AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY -- SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

THE PETER G. PETERSON AND JOAN GANZ COONEY FUND.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, THE AMBROSE MONELL FOUNDATION AND BY -- JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, AND THE DR. ROBERT C.

AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION, THE MARK HAWES FOUNDATION.

> GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

TODAY NEW YORKERS JOINED MILLIONS AROUND THE WORLD TO CELEBRATE EARTH DAY.

FOR MANY, A YEAR OF COVID RESTRICTIONS AND LOCKDOWNS HAS MEANT A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT IN OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE WORLD AROUND US, HIGHLIGHTING THE IMPORTANCE OF OUTDOOR SPACES TO OUR PHYSICAL AND OUR MENTAL HEALTH.

NOW, AS AMERICA BEGINS TO CRAWL OUT OF THE PANDEMIC, THERE ARE REAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LONG-TERM IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE ENVIRONMENT.

ONE THING THAT HASN'T CHANGED IS THE CONTINUING EXISTENTIAL THREAT OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

WHAT LESSONS ABOUT NATURE HAVE WE LEARNED OVER THE PAST YEAR?

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF THE PLANET LOOK LIKE IN A POST COVID WORLD, AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LOCAL CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORIES IN OUR AREA?

JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT IT ALL AS PART OF OUR INITIATIVE REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE IS BILL ULFELDER, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE NEW YORK NATURE C CONSE CONSERVANCY.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

VERY QUICKLY, I DO JUST KIND OF WANT TO REMIND PEOPLE.

LET'S SAY THAT LAST APRIL WE WERE ALL A LITTLE PREOCCUPIED.

THAT WAS ACTUALLY THE 50th ANNIVERSARY, WHICH DIDN'T GET MY FANFARE.

IT WAS HARD LAST YEAR, PEOPLE, COVID SUFFERING, LOCKDOWNS.

IT WAS A HARD TIME.

THINK ABOUT THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION, AN ADMINISTRATION THAT DIDN'T BELIEVE IN SCIENCE AND CERTAINLY WASN'T DOING ANYTHING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, WHICH YOU MENTIONED IN THE OPEN AS AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT AND HOW DIFFERENT IT FEELS.

YES, HERE WE ARE, EMERGING FROM THE PANDEMIC.

THAT'S HAPPENING.

IT'S SPRING.

WE HAVE A NEW ADMINISTRATION THAT IS SO COMPLETELY COMMITTED TO CLIMATE CHANGE AND ADDRESSING IT.

IT FEELS LIKE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.

I THINK SOMETHING ELSE YOU SAID IN YOUR OPEN IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

I THINK SOMETHING ABOUT THE PANDEMIC BRINGS US CLOSER TO THE NATURAL WORLD.

THE FACT THAT THE PANDEMIC WAS SOMETHING WE COULDN'T SEE, KIND OF THE WAY CLIMATE CHANGE IS UNTIL IT HITS US, I THINK THIS CAUSED AN AWAKENING AMONG PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT WE NEED TO DO.

YES, THISSE ETARTH DAY FEELS VE DIFFERENT THAN LAST EARTH DAY.

DID THE NATURAL WORLD HAVE TIME TO HEAL?

THERE WAS SORT OF A BELIEF AT THE BEGINNING OF LOCKDOWN THAT PERHAPS THIS COULD BE A BLESSING IN DISGUISE, BECAUSE WITHOUT HUMANS DRIVING EVERYWHERE AND PERHAPS DOING SOME OF THE POLLUTING THINGS THAT WE USUALLY DO, AGAIN, IN THEORY, THAT THIS WOULD GIVE THE PLANET A CHANCE TO HEAL ITSELF.

YEAH.

WELL, I THINK THE NUMBER ONE THING THAT HAPPENED WAS AMIDST THE PANDEMIC ALL OF A SUDDEN PEOPLE WHO COULD GET OUTSIDE DEVELOPED A STRONGER CONNECTION TO NATURE.

NOW, THAT NATURE COULD BE WALKS IN THE WOODS IN A BIG FOREST SOMEWHERE, YOU KNOW, AROUND THE STATE OR IN THE CITY, OR EVEN JUST SOME OF OUR SMALL LIKE POCKET PARKS AROUND THE CITY.

THERE WE WERE INSIDE OUR FOUR WALLS, AND THE PLACE WE COULD GO OUT AND GET AIR AND SOMEHOW MANAGE OUR STRESS WAS IN NATURE.

AND WE SAW AN INCREDIBLE SURGE IN VISITATION.

THE NATURE CONSERVANCY, WE HAVE ABOUT 150 PRESERVES ALL ACROSS THE STATE.

SOME OF OUR PRESERVES SAW A 300% INCREASE IN VISITATION LAST SPRING, THREE TIMES THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ALL WANTING TO BE OUT IN NATURE.

I THINK THAT REALLY CHANGED THINGS AND PEOPLE REALIZED THAT THERE WAS THIS ALMOST LIKE A PRESCRIPTION DRUG, LIKE OH MY GOSH, MY STRESS IS GOING DOWN, I FEEL BETTER.

SO I THINK THAT IS SOMETHING THAT'S GOING TO DRIVE A BIG CHANGE.

YES, AS YOU ALLUDED TO, THE CITY GREW QUIET, PLANES WEREN'T FLYING OVER.

I LIVE NEAR RIVERSIDE PARK.

YOU WOULD WALK OVER THERE IN BROAD DAYLIGHTS.

THERE WERE FAMILIES OF RACCOONS WALKING AROUND.

IT FELT VERY DIFFERENT.

THE HONEST TRUTH IS THAT RELATIVE TO WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO CLIMATE CHANGE, IT WASN'T THAT DRAMATIC AND IT PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE LIKE JUST HOW FUNDAMENTALLY WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WAY WE GET ENERGY, THE WAY WE DESIGN AND BUILD OUR TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE.

I THINK IT WAS A TASTE OF POSSIBLE, BUT IT'S A REMINDER OF HOW FAR WE HAVE TO GO.

IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD ACTUALLY IT'S REALLY TOUGH.

THE LAST TRIP I TOOK OVERSEAS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC WAS TO VISIT AFRICA IN KENYA.

THEY FUNDAMENTALLY RELY ON TOURIST REVENUE IN ORDER TO DO THEIR CONSERVATION EFFORTS.

WHEN YOU SEE THE COLLAPSE OF THE TOURIST ECONOMY IN PLACES LIKE EAST AFRICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, CONSERVATION EFFORTS GET HIT REALLY HARD.

WE DO NEED TO EMERGE FROM THE PANDEMIC GET BACK TO VISITING SOME OF THESE PLACES.

WE NEED TO DO IT IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE WAY.

WELL, DID THE PANDEMIC ALSO HAVE OTHER UNINTENDED PERHAPS CONSEQUENCES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

WHAT WE TEND TO HEAR A LOT ABOUT NOW IS THE AMOUNT OF GARBAGE WE ALL SEEM TO CREATE FROM ORDERING THINGS AND BEING AT HOME, ET CETERA, AND THUS WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THE RECYCLING MOVEMENT, THE LANDFILL MOVEMENT.

DID THE PANDEMIC HAVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

I THINK IT SLOWED US DOWN.

MY EXPERIENCE IS IT SLOWED US DOWN AND WE STARTED PAYING MORE ATTENTION TO ALL OF THOSE THINGS I WOULD SAY THE EFFECTS WERE UNEVEN.

HERE IN NEW YORK CITY, FOR EXAMPLE, THE CITY HAS CURTAILED THE COMPOSTING PROGRAM IN BUILDINGS WHERE YOU COULD SIMPLY DROP IT OFF IN A BIN IN YOUR BUILDING.

COMPOST, YOU NEED TO WALK YOUR COMPOST TO PICKUP SITES.

WHEN YOU'RE HOME EVERY DAY, YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH FOOD WASTE YOU'RE GENERATING.

THAT'S A HUGE SOURCE OF WEIGHT AND VOLUME IN LANDFILLS AND EMISSIONS.

THE OTHER THING THAT HAPPENED TOO WAS, IT WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PANDEMIC THAT THE PLASTIC BAG BAN FINALLY WENT INTO IMPLEMENTATION.

IT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTPONED BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC.

NOW NEW YORK HAS REALLY SWITCHED OVER TO REUSABLE BAGS.

I'M SEEING THEM EVERYWHERE.

IT JUST SHOWS THESE THINGS THAT WE THINK MIGHT BE HARD ACTUALLY AREN'T THAT HARD FOR US.

SO I THINK THE SLOWING DOWN, THE REFLECTION IN PAYING ATTENTION IS GOING TO SERVE US ALL WELL IN THE LONG-TERM INTEREST OF SUSTAINABILITY.

I'D BE REMISS IF I DIDN'T ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE WAY WE'RE SORT OF TALKING ABOUT THE PANDEMIC IS ALSO THE WAY A CERTAIN CLASS OF AMERICANS EXPERIENCED THE PANDEMIC.

A LOT OF PEOPLE, THE PANDEMIC EXPOSED SOME OF THE INCREDIBLE GREAT INEQUITIES IN OUR SOCIETY.

SO I'M WONDERING HOW DOES NOT JUST ECONOMIC, BUT ALSO RACIAL INEQUITY, HOW DOES THAT ALSO AFFECT THE ENVIRONMENT AND HOW PEOPLE'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ENVIRONMENT HAS CHANGED?

THIS IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT POINT AND QUESTION, JENNA.

YOU KNOW, IT IS SO CLEAR WHO'S BEEN MOST AFFECTED BY COVID-19, WHO HAS HAD THE FEWEST RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO THEM, WHO HAS SUFFERED THE HIGHEST MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY RATES.

TO BE HONEST, THAT SAME HISTORY IS TRUE OF ENVIRONMENT EFFECTS OR WE'LL CALL IT POLLUTION EFFECTS IN THE UNITED STATES.

SO THERE'S A LONG HISTORY OF CITING ENERGY PRODUCTION AND POLLUTING PROJECTS, FACILITIES IN NEIGHBORHOODS THAT ARE LOWER INCOME, LESS POWERFUL, OFTEN OF COLOR.

I THINK ALL THE THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED AROUND BLACK LIVES MATTER, SOCIAL EQUITY AND JUSTICE, THAT PUSH, THAT IS PERMEATING IN VERY POWERFUL WAYS CONSERVATION AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT.

THERE HAS LONG BEEN AN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES.

IT'S BEEN INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT AND IT'S BROUGHT US SOME KEY CHANGES ALONG THE WAY.

I THINK YOU'RE RIGHT.

I THINK AS A RESULT OF THE PANDEMIC THE HEIGHTENED AWARENESS AROUND THIS IS GOING TO AFFECT THE WAY WE TACKLE ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES.

JUST TO GIVE YOU TWO QUICK EXAMPLES, HERE IN NEW YORK WE HAVE THE CLIMATE LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNITY PROTEST ACT.

IT IS VERY MUCH GEARED TOWARDS THINKING ABOUT VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES AND PUTTING DISPROPORTIONATE RESOURCES TOWARDS THEM TO ENSURE THEIR SAFETY AND HEALTH.

THAT KIND OF LEGISLATION WE HAVEN'T SEEN HISTORICALLY IN THIS COUNTRY.

I THINK THIS IS CHANGING, NOT FAST ENOUGH, BUT IT'S CHANGING IN IMPORTANT WAYS.

OF COURSE.

I WANT TO CIRCLE BACK TO AN EARLIER POINT YOU MADE WHERE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT HOW IN KENYA THEIR CONSERVATION EFFORTS RELY VERY HEAVILY ON TOURIST DOLLARS.

WHILE THAT MIGHT NOT NECESSARILY BE THE SAME CASE HERE, THE STATE BUDGETS, GOVERNMENT HAS AN IMPACT ON CONSERVATION EFFORTS.

WE KNOW THAT NEW YORK STATE SUFFERED SOME HUGE LOSSES AS A RESULT OF THE PANDEMIC.

SO I'M WONDERING HOW DID THAT AFFECT INITIATIVES THAT THE STATE MIGHT HAVE?

AS I LIKE TO SAY, WE'RE INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE TO BE NEW YORKERS, BECAUSE NEW YORK REALLY DOES LEAD THE WAY NATIONALLY ON THE ENVIRONMENT, CONSERVATION, CLIMATE CHANGE.

WE SET AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS.

AND THERE WAS A DEEP-SEATED CONCERN LAST FALL WITH THE PREVIOUS PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION, WORRIES ABOUT THE ECONOMY.

BUT NOW WITH THE NEW ADMINISTRATION AND THE SUPPORT THAT'S COMING TO STATES AND IT HELPS THAT THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER IS FROM NEW YORK AS WELL.

YOU KNOW, NEW YORK IS RECEIVING SIGNIFICANT, SIGNIFICANT RESOURCES.

SO THINGS THAT WE THOUGHT WOULD BE ENVIRONMENTAL IN CONSERVATION INVESTMENTS, NOT ONLY WENT FROM BEING ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK ARE NOW FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS OF WHERE NEW YORK IS GOING.

THE NEW STATE BUDGET HAS A BILLION DOLLARS FOR CONSERVATION FUNDING.

SO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND THAT HELPS THINGS LIKE OPEN SPACE, CLEAN WATER AND INVESTMENT IN OUR STATE PARKS.

THESE ARE BIG CHUNKS OF RESOURCES FOR CONSERVATION.

THE OTHER THING THAT THE STATE ANNOUNCED IS THAT WE WILL BE RUNNING A $3 BILLION ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE CHANGE BOND ACT IN NOVEMBER OF 2022.

SO NOT THIS ELECTION CYCLE, BUT NEXT ELECTION CYCLE.

THIS IS BUILT TO CREATE 65,000 WELL-PAYING, GREEN, SUSTAINABLE JOBS AROUND RENEWABLE ENERGY, BUILDING MORE CLIMATE-RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE, INVESTING IN NATURE AS WAYS TO CAPTURE CARBON AND REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

SO NEW YORK, WE WERE KIND OF TEETERING AND WE WERE ALL WATCHING.

NOW I JUST HAVE TO SAY THAT THE STATE ONCE AGAIN IS OUT FRONT AND SETTING THE NATIONAL EXAMPLE.

NEVER LET IT BE SAID THAT NATURE DOESN'T SEEM TO FIND A WAY TO REMIND US OF ITS IMPORTANCE AND ITS IMPACT.

I CAN'T LET YOU GO WITHOUT ASKING ABOUT THE CICADAS.

I UNDERSTAND THIS IS LIKE A ONCE IN A 17-YEAR THING.

FRANKLY, I LIVE IN THE HUDSON VALLEY.

SHOULD I BE AFRAID?

DEFINITELY NOT.

MY WIFE IS KIND OF OBSESSED AS WELL.

THE CICADAS, THERE ARE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES AND THEY HAVE THESE LONG PERIODS OF DORMANCY AND THEN THEY EMERGE.

I THINK THIS IS A 17-YEAR CYCLE.

IT PASSES.

THEY DON'T BITE.

THEY MAKE NOISE.

A LOT OF US, MYSELF INCLUDED, HAVE CHILDHOOD MEMORIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE SOUNDS OF THE CICADAS.

SO NO REASON TO BE WORRIED WHATSOEVER.

IT'S JUST NATURAL PROCESSES UNFOLDING AROUND US IN ONE OF THE MOST DEVELOPED CITIES IN THE WORLD, BUT WHERE WE'RE STILL CONNECTED TO NATURE.

AND THAT'S PRETTY COOL, BECAUSE WE NEED IT.

OF COURSE.

I HOPE THAT ONCE WE'RE ABLE TO HAVE PEOPLE GATHERING TOGETHER, THAT IT'S NOT TOO MUCH OF A DEC DEAFENING SOUND.

BILL ULFELDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE NEW YORK NATURE CONSER CONSERVANCY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANKS, JENNA.

IT'S A PLEASURE.

IT REALLY DOES FEEL LIKE A DAY TO CELEBRATE.

ABSOLUTELY.

> HI.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

DID YOU KNOW THAT IF YOU TOOK ALL THE TREES IN NEW YORK CITY AND PUT THEM TOGETHER, IT WOULD MAKE UP AN ENTIRE FOREST?

THESE APPROXIMATELY 7 MILLION TREES ARE LIVING, BREATHING PARTS OF THE CITY'S ECOSYSTEM AND VITAL RESOURCES TO OUR COMMUNITIES.

THEY CLEAN AND COOL OUR AIR, PROVIDE A CONNECTION TO NATURE THAT CAN BE OTHERWISE PRETTY HARD TO FIND.

BUT THIS URBAN FOREST IS NOT DISTRIBUTED EVENLY ACROSS BOROU.

ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK NATURE CONSERVANCY, THE AREAS WITH THE LOWEST TREE COVER TEND TO BE COMMUNITY OF COLOR AND LOW INCOME COMMUNITIES.

TO TALK ABOUT A TASK FORCE AND PART OF AN INITIATIVE, OUR EMILY NOBLE MAXWELL, CITY'S DIRECTOR FOR THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN NEW YORK.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU, JENNA.

AND WE'RE ALSO JOINED TODAY BY ANEL HERNANDEZ, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK CITY ENVIRONMENTAL AND JUSTICE ALLIANCE.

WELCOME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

FOR PEOPLE WHO MIGHT BE SCRATCHING THEIR HEAD AT THE NOTION OF AN URBAN FOREST, I GUESS WE GET A SENSE OF THE DESCRIPTION IN THE INTRO, BUT HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AN URBAN FOREST AND WHAT IS ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN A CITY LIKE NEW YORK?

ABSOLUTELY.

OUR URBAN FOREST IS EVERY TREE IN NEW YORK CITY, WHICH IS MORE THAN 7 MILLION TREES, AND ALL OF THE PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE UPON WHICH THEY DEPEND.

FORESTS ARE ALWAYS UNIQUE AND FASCINATING SYSTEMS.

OUR URBAN FOREST IS NO LESS FASCINATING.

IT'S ALL OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE THAT SUPPORTS OUR FOREST AS WELL.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

IT'S FOR ALL THE REASONS YOU SHARED.

IT PROVIDES US TREMENDOUS BENEFITS, BOTH TANGIBLE AND INTANGIBLE.

WE ALL KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO WALK DOWN THE STREET WITH SHADE ON A HOT SUMMER DAY.

I ASK YOU TO HOLD THAT IN YOUR MIND AS WE TALK ABOUT THE FOREST.

OF COURSE.

I ALSO MENTIONED THAT THE FOREST OR THE TREE COVER, AS IT'S PROBABLY BETTER DESCRIBED, ISN'T DISTRIBUTED EVENLY.

I MEAN, WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IT DOES MAKE SENSE, UNFORTUNATE SENSE BUT IT DOES MAKE SENSE.

CAN YOU SORT OF EXPAND ON WHAT IT WAS THAT THE TASK FORCE WAS ABLE TO SUSS OUT?

MY ORGANIZATION, WE REALLY FOCUS ON UPLIFTING THE ADVOCACY OF COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AND LOW INCOME COMMUNITIES AS THEY FIGHT FOR HEALTHIER COMMUNITIES AND AGAINST THESE CLUSTERING ENVIRONMENTAL BURDENS.

REALLY, STREET TREES AND OUR URBAN FOREST CAN HELP DEAL WITH THAT DISPROPORTIONATE BURDEN WE'RE FACING BY HELPING IMPROVE THE AIR QUALITY AND HELPING MITIGATE URBAN HEAT ISLAND.

WE ALREADY KNOW, ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK CITY PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE, THAT THE NUMBER OF 90-DEGREE DAYS IS EXPECTED TO DOUBLE, IF NOT MORE BY 2050.

WE REALLY HAVE TO START BEING MORE FORWARD-THINKING AND REALLY VALUING OUR NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS AS THEY SHOULD BE.

YOU KNOW, EVERY SUMMER THE NOTION OF THE URBAN HEAT INDEX COMES UP A LITTLE BIT, BUT FOR PEOPLE WHO MIGHT NOT EITHER BE IN THE NEW YORK CITY AREA OR PERHAPS DON'T LIVE IN A NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE THAT REALLY IS GOING TO AFFECT THEM, CAN YOU SORT OF EXPLAIN FOR THE AUDIENCE WHAT THAT IS AND THE IMPACT IT HAS ON A NEIGHBORHOOD?

YES, DEFINITELY.

THINK OF COMMUNITIES LIKE HUNTS POINT, WHERE THEY'RE SURROUNDED BY INDUSTRIAL INFRASTRUCTURE, BY ENDLESS CONCRETE AND BUILDINGS WITH NO GREENERY ON THEM, AND ALL OF THAT IS REALLY RETAINING THE HEAT.

SO YOU HAVE THAT EFFECT, PLUS THE ADDITIONAL NUMBER OF HEAT WAVES THAT WE'RE DEALING WITH, A LACK OF GREEN SPACE, A LACK OF PARKS IN THE COMMUNITY AND THEN THAT REALLY CAN EXACERBATE THE PREEXISTING HEALTH CONDITIONS IF YOU ALREADY HAVE ASTHMA OR ANOTHER PREEXISTING CONDITION, IT'S GOING TO MAKE YOU MORE VULNERABLE TO THESE HEAT WAVES.

IT'S PARTICULARLY TRUE FOR OUR SENIOR CITIZENS AND FOR THE CHILDREN IN OUR COMMUNITIES.

SO THEN, EMILY, I UNDERSTAND THAT THE NATURE CONSERVANCY CONVENED A TASK FORCE TO ADDRESS THIS URBAN FOREST INEQUITY.

IS THIS JUST A MATTER OF JUST PLANTING MORE TREES IN DIFFERENT AREAS, OR WHAT EXACTLY NEEDS TO BE DONE?

THAT'S A FANTASTIC QUESTION.

SO I WANT TO BE CLEAR, THE NEW YORK CITY URBAN FOREST TASK FORCE IS NEARLY 50 ORGANIZATIONS THAT HAVE COME TOGETHER TO SET AN AGENDA FOR NEW YORK CITY'S URBAN FOREST.

IT FOCUSES DEFINITELY ON EQUITY, BUT ALSO ON RESILIENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY.

TOGETHER WE'VE REALLY ESTABLISHED WHAT THAT AGENDA CAN BE.

WHILE I CAN'T TELL YOU THE ENTIRETY OF THE AGENDA WHICH WILL BE PUBLICLY RELEASED IN JUNE, WHAT I CAN SHARE IS THAT PLANTING IS FANTASTIC AND PLANTING ALONE ISN'T SUFFICIENT.

WE ALSO NEED CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF OUR EXISTING TREES TO ENSURE THAT THEY THRIVE AND GROW AND SUSTAIN.

WE NEED ONGOING SCIENCE AND MONITORING TO MAKE SURE THAT WE KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THAT SYSTEM AND WE ALSO KNOW THAT SOMETIMES EVEN WHEN WE DO OUR BEST TO TAKE CARE OF TREES, WE FACE TREE LOSS THROUGH CATASTROPHIC EVENTS LIKE STORMS AND SOMETIMES INTENTIONAL TREE REMOVAL.

WHEN TREES ARE LOST AND REMOVED, WE NEED TO BE SURE THAT THAT ASSET IS SOMEHOW REPLACED OR MADE UP FOR.

SO WE NEED TO PRESERVE WHAT WE HAVE, WE NEED TO CARE, STEWARD AND MAINTAIN WHAT WE HAVE, AND WE NEED TO PLANT NEW, IN MORE EQUITABLE WAYS AND THEN CARE FOR THAT.

I'M JUST WONDERING HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THAT WORK?

OF COURSE IN A CITY LIKE NEW YORK WHERE IT SEEMS LIKE EVERY SQUARE INCH IS JUST SO VALUABLE, HOW DO YOU BEGIN TO FIND SPACE THAT IS GOING TO BE USED JUST FOR GREENERY, FOR TREES OR FOR OTHER PLANTS?

I LOVE THIS QUESTION, BECAUSE ACTUALLY THERE IS TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL IN NEW YORK CITY FOR INCREASING BOTH THE NUMBER OF TREES AND THE TREE CANOPY WHICH IS THE COVER THAT IT PROVIDES FOR US.

SO RIGHT NOW, THE MAJORITY OF OUR URBAN TREE CANOPY IS MANAGED BY NEW YORK CITY PARKS, ABOUT 53% OF IT.

SO 47% OF OUR TREE CANOPY IS SITTING ON EITHER NON PARKLAND, ON GOVERNMENT LAND OR ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.

PRIVATE PROPERTY IS HOVERING AROUND 36%. SO WITH THAT WE ALSO KNOW THAT THERE IS TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL ON EACH OF THESE LAND TYPES.

SO THERE IS ROOM FOR MORE STREET TREES.

THERE IS ROOM FOR MORE PLANTING ON PARKLAND, BUT THERE'S ALSO TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL FOR PRIVATE PROPERTY.

SO BUILDING A CULTURE OF STEWARDSHIP AND A CULTURE OF VALUING NATURE AND TREES IS GOING TO BE CRITICAL TO REALIZING THE TRUE POTENTIAL OF OUR URBAN FOREST.

I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD TELL US, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE AT LEAST, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE POLICIES THAT COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN CREATING MORE GREEN SPACE?

WE'VE OVER THE YEARS HEARD STORIES ABOUT LOW INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS OR COMMUNITIES OF COLOR THAT HAVE REALLY HAD TO FIGHT FOR PLOTS OF LAND TO PUT IN URBAN GARDENS, BUT ALSO SOMETIMES YOU FIND LANDLORDS ARE RESISTANT TO GREEN ROOFS OR OTHER GREEN SPACES.

WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO BE DONE?

YEAH.

I WANT TO BUILD ON WHAT EMILY SAID.

SHE TALKED ABOUT ALL OF THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TREES.

ONE OF MY PRIORITIES ARE STREET TREES.

THEY ARE SUCH AN IMPORTANT ASSET WHEN WE'RE WALKING TO THE COMMUNITY, WHEN KIDS ARE WALKING TO SCHOOL, WHEN ELDERLY PEOPLE MAY BE WALKING TO A COOLING CENTER OR GOING TO VISIT FAMILY.

HAVING THAT TREE CANOPY COVERAGE IS CRITICAL TO PROVIDE CLEANER AIR, TO PROVIDE JUST SHADE, A PLACE TO HANG OUT EVEN, YOU KNOW?

SO THAT'S CRITICAL.

AND THE CITY NEEDS TO INVEST MORE IN THIS IMPORTANT ASSET.

RIGHT NOW THE PARKS DEPARTMENT HAS A HUGE MANDATE IN FRONT OF THEM.

THEY HAVE MILLIONS OF TREES THAT THEY HAVE TO MANAGE.

AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK NEEDS TO GIVE THEM THE FUNDING THEY NEED TO DO IT AND DO IT WELL.

LIKE YOU MENTIONED, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT PLANTING TREES, IT'S ABOUT MAINTAINING THE TREES AND ENSURING THAT THEY'RE HEALTHY, ENSURING THAT IF A STORM HAPPENS AND THEY GET KNOCKED DOWN THAT SOMEBODY COMES IN AND REPLACES THEM.

RIGHT NOW THE TIMELINE FOR REPLACEMENT CAN BE UP TO TWO YEARS.

THAT'S OUTRAGEOUS.

WE NEED TO REALLY VALUE OUR STREET TREES AND OUR URBAN CANOPY COVERAGE.

THERE IS A LOT THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.

OF COURSE, LIKE YOU MENTIONED, THERE'S OTHER TYPES OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE THAT WE SHOULD ALSO BE PRIORITIZING, WHETHER IT'S THE BIOSWALES AND RAIN GARDENS THAT DEP IS BUILDING OR WHETHER IT'S COASTAL PROTECTION AND WATERFRONT PARKS ALONG OUR WATE WATERWAYS.

THESE ARE ALL CRITICAL PIECES OF THE SOLUTION.

OKAY.

EMILY, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT SEEMS TO LEAD INTO MY NEXT QUESTION, WHICH IS OF COURSE THE COST OF ALL OF THIS.

WE ALL KNOW IN NEW YORK NOTHING IS FOR FREE.

MY NEXT QUESTION WHICH KIND OF LEADS INTO THAT IS, HOW DID COVID, WHICH SEEMS TO HAVE IMPACTED EVERYTHING, HOW DID THAT IMPACT THE WORK THAT THE TASK FORCE WAS DOING?

SO COVID REALLY DID TWO THINGS FOR THE TASK FORCE.

THE FIRST WAS, AND AFSIT WAS AN INCREDIBLE THING TO SEE, IT GALVANIZED US.

WE ASKED THE QUESTION TO THE ALMOST 50 MEMBERS, WE JUST STARTED THIS PROCESS, SHALL WE CONTINUE IN THIS NEW REMOTE WORLD?

AND NOT A SINGLE MEMBER SAID NO.

EVERY MEMBER SAID LET'S KEEP GOING.

WE SEE THE NEED FOR TREES MORE THAN EVER AS NEW YORKERS SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE WITH FAMILIES FOR RECREATION, SAFETY, TAKING A BREAK FROM WORK.

WE'VE ALL NEEDED OUR OUTDOORS REALLY AS MUCH OR MORE THAN WE EVER HAVE THIS YEAR.

I THINK TREES HAVE BECOME THAT MUCH MORE PRECIOUS TO US.

SO IT GALVANIZED US, BUT IT ALSO CHALLENGED US.

OBVIOUSLY THERE HAVE BEEN TREMENDOUS BUDGET CUTS UNDER COVID FOR LITERALLY EVERYTHING.

AT THE SAME TIME, TREES AND OUR URBAN FOREST HAVE RECEIVED A DISPROPORTIONATE CUT.

SO WHILE THE PARKS DEPARTMENT ITSELF RECEIVED JUST A TREMENDOUS CUT TO ITS BUDGET, IF WE LOOK AT TREES SEPARATELY, THEIR BUDGET GOT CUT EVEN MORE, NEARLY 90%. NOW WE'RE IN THE BUDGET CYCLE FOR THE COMING YEAR.

WE REALLY DO NEED TO RESTORE THE BUDGET FOR TREES.

SO OUR TREE BUDGET REALLY WAS PARTICULARLY THE EXPENSE SIDE, THE CARING FOR TREES SIDE, WAS LEFT AT ITS LOWEST POINT IN 11 YEARS LAST YEAR.

WE DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT CONTINUE.

WE'VE GOT ABOUT 30 SECONDS LEFT, BUT I'D LOVE TO KNOW IF YOU'RE AT ALL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THIS RENEWED FOCUS ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY IN NEW YORK?

DEFINITELY.

I'M VERY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT WHAT WE CAN MAKE HAPPEN.

WE'RE WORKING CLOSELY WITH OUR MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS TO REALLY HONE IN ON THIS ISSUE, UNDERSTAND OUR AIR QUALITY ISSUES, UNDERSTAND OUR HEAT VULNERABILITIES AND ACT ON IT.

I'M VERY HOPEFUL OF THAT AND I'M PERSONALLY EXCITED TO SEE MORE STREET TREES ON MY BLOCK.

ALL RIGHT.

WE'RE GOING TO END THIS ON AN OPTIMISTIC NOTE.

LADIES, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

EMILY NOBLE MAXWELL, THE CITY'S DIRECTOR FOR THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN NEW YORK.

AND ARNELL HERNANDEZ OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ALLIANCE.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

ABSOLUTELY.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY -- SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

THE PETER G. PETERSON AND JOAN GANZ COONEY FUND.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, THE AMBROSE MONELL FOUNDATION AND BY -- JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, AND THE DR. ROBERT C.

AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION, THE DR. P. ROY VAGELOS, THE MARK HAWES FOUNDATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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