MetroFocus: July 14, 2021

In 1971 President Richard Nixon appeared before Congress to declare a national war on drugs. What followed was a decades long escalation of policing and zero tolerance judicial policies that critics say did little to actually stop drug addiction. Now, fifty years later, marijuana is being decriminalized or legalized in states across the country, and some members of Congress are going so far as to propose a federal decriminalization of all drugs. Executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Kassandra Frederique joins us to discuss the fight for drug policy reform breaking out in New York and across the country.

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.

TRANSCRIPT

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> THIS IS 'METROFOCUS' WITH RAFAEL PI 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.

DR. ROBERT C. AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION.

DR. P. ROY AND DIANA T., THE MARCOS FOUNDATION.

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

IN 1971, PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON APPEARED BEFORE CONGRESS TO DECLARE A NATIONAL WAR ON DRUGS.

WHAT FOLLOWED WAS A DECADES-LONG ESCALATION OF POLICING AND ZERO TOLERANCE JUDICIAL POLICIES THAT CRITICS SAY DID LITTLE TO ACTUALLY STOP DRUG ADDICTION.

NOW 50 YEARS LATER, MARIJUANA IS BEING DECRIMINALIZED OR LEGALIZED IN STATES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ARE PROPOSING TAKING ACTION AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL WITH SOME GOING AS FAR AS RECOMMENDING FEDERAL DECRIMINALIZATION OF ALL DRUGS.

SO, HERE TO DISCUSS THE FIGHT FOR DRUG POLICY REFORM HERE IN NEW YORK AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY IS CASSANDRA.

WELCOME TO THE 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

SO, FIRST OFF, I JUST WANT TO START OFF WITH, AS I MENTIONED IN THE INTRO, IT'S BEEN 50 YEARS SINCE WE -- THE COUNTRY, AT LEAST, DECLARED A, QUOTE, UNQUOTE, WAR ON DRUGS.

FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL IMPACT OF IT?

I DON'T WANT TO SAY, HOW SUCCESS WAS IT, BUT WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF THAT POLICY DECISION?

WHAT WE'VE SEEN IN THE LAST 50 YEARS BASED ON THE DRACONIAN POLICY CHOICE WAS RAPID MASS INCARCERATION.

WE'VE SEEN THE DESTRUCTION OF FAMILIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

WE'VE ALSO SEEN A DIVESTMENT FROM OUR PUBLIC HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE, AND WE ALSO HAVE SEEN WILD PROPAGANDA THAT HAS ONLY MADE DRUG USE MORE DANGEROUS.

AND I THINK ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE ALSO MISS IS THAT IN THE LAST 50 YEARS, OUR DRUG SUPPLY HAS BECOME EVEN MORE DANGEROUS BECAUSE OF OUR DOUBLING DOWN ON PROHIBITION, WE HAVE PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING WITH THE MARKETS AND TRYING TO STRETCH DRUGS OUT AND USING ADULTERANTS THAT MAKE SUBSTANCES EVEN MORE DANGEROUS FOR PEOPLE WHO USE THEM, AND SO I THINK IT IS -- IT IS AN ABSOLUTE FAILURE WHEN IT COMES TO THE THINGS THEY SUPPOSEDLY INTENDED FOR IT TO DO, BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY VERY SUCCESSFUL, IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE POLITICAL MOTIVATION BEHIND WHY THEY MADE THIS POLICY CHOICE.

WELL, SPEAKING OF THIS POLICY CHOICE, ONE OF THE HEAVY CRITICISMS AGAINST IT HAS BEEN THAT IT VERY SPECIFICALLY TARGETED PEOPLE OF COLOR.

NOW, FOR SOMEONE WHO MIGHT STILL NOT FULLY GRASP OR BE, MAYBE, AS SENSITIVE TO THAT, CAN YOU JUST SORT OF EXPLAIN WHY PEOPLE HAVE REACHED THAT CONCLUSION?

SO, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE POLICY CHOICE AROUND DRUG PROHIBITION IS THAT WHEN PRESIDENT NIXON DECLARED IT, THERE WERE UNDERLYING MOTIVATIONS AS TO WHO HE WANTED THESE POLICIES TO TARGET.

SO AT THE TIME THAT THE DRUG WAR WAS ANNOUNCED, HE WAS NAVIGATING AN ANTI-WAR LEFT, FOLKS THAT WERE REALLY DISSENTING AGAINST THE VIETNAM WAR, AND THEN WE HAD A RISING BLACK POLITICAL CLASS THAT WAS MOVING AND PUSHING AGAINST THE STATUS QUO.

AND WHAT JOHN EHRLICMAN SAID WAS THAT THEY COULDN'T MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO BE AGAINST THE WAR OR TO BE BLACK, BUT THEY COULD MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO USE DRUGS AND TO USE DRUGS AS AN INSTRUMENT TO CRIMINALIZE THOSE GROUPS OF PEOPLE AND HAVE THE MEDIA AND POLICIES SEEM, ON ITS FACE, RACE NEUTRAL, BUT ACTUALLY HAVE TARGETING FORCES AND SEEING THE WAY THEY DIVESTED IN CERTAIN COMMUNITIES AND INVESTED IN LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CRIMINALIZATION.

THE REASON WHY THEY KNEW HOW TO DO THIS WAS BECAUSE THAT WAS ALREADY A HUNDRED-YEAR PLAYBOOK THAT THE UNITED STATES HAD ALREADY PUT FORWARD, SO THE FIRST DRUG LAWS IN THE U.S.

TARGETED CHINESE MIGRANTS AFTER THEY CAME OVER TO BUILD THE RAILROAD IN CALIFORNIA.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT LAWS LIKE OUR MARIJUANA LAWS, THE REASON WHY WE CALL IT MARIJUANA IN THE UNITED STATES AND NOT CANNABIS LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD IS BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO ASSOCIATE THAT DRUG WITH MEXICANS, AND MARIJUANA IS THE SPANISH WORD.

SO, OUR DRUG LAWS HAVE ALWAYS XENOPHOBIC AND RACIST IN NATURE AND THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION USED THAT HUNDRED-YEAR PLAYBOOK TO REALLY REINFORCE THE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE DRUG WAR WE SEE TODAY.

SO, IT IS NOT A COINCIDENCE THAT COMMUNITIES OF COLOR ARE BEING IMPACTED.

IT WAS ACTUALLY BY DESIGN.

AND SO OFTENTIMES, PEOPLE WILL ASK, WAS THE DRUG WAR SUCCESSFUL OR DID IT FAIL?

AND SOME PEOPLE SAY IT FAILED, AND IT FAILED BECAUSE IT DIDN'T GET DRUGS OFF THE STREET.

IT DIDN'T MAKE LESS PEOPLE USE DRUGS.

WE AREN'T MORE IN A HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE.

IT HASN'T DETERRED PEOPLE FROM USING DRUGS, BUT IT WAS SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE IT DID DISRUPT THE COMMUNITIES THAT IT WAS INTENDED TO DISRUPT.

AND I DO WANT TO GET INTO A LITTLE BIT OF THE CHANGE, LET'S SAY, IN NOT ONLY POLICY BUT ATTITUDE AROUND MARIJUANA, BUT IT SEEMS AS IF OVERALL THERE'S BEEN A PUBLIC SHIFT IN THE WAY PEOPLE VIEW DRUGS AND DRUG USE AND DRUG ABUSE.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS BEING THE DRIVING SOURCE FOR THAT SHIFT, JUST IN SORT OF LIKE THE WAY THE PUBLIC VIEWS THESE ISSUES?

I THINK THE DRUG WAR WAS A LIE, AND I THINK THAT WHILE LIES CAN BE VERY SUCCESSFUL, THEY DON'T ALWAYS LAST, AND PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING -- ARE HAVING THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES WITH DRUGS AND REALIZING THAT THEY ARE NOT NAVIGATING RAVAGES OF ADDICTION.

MOST PEOPLE THAT USE DRUGS DON'T END UP HAVING A CHAOTIC OR PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP WITH IT.

AND THEN FOR THE PEOPLE THAT DO STRUGGLE WITH ADDICTION, THEY ARE SEEING THAT CRIMINALIZATION ACTUALLY ISN'T HELPING THEM GET TO A PLACE OF HEALTH, RIGHT?

THEY ARE SEEING -- SO, NOT ONLY ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE NAVIGATING ADDICTION STRUGGLING WITH GETTING THE RESOURCES THAT THEY NEED BECAUSE CRIMINALIZATION IS THE OVERWHELMING INTERVENTION, BUT PEOPLE THAT HAVE LOVED ONES OR FAMILY MEMBERS THAT NAVIGATE ADDICTION ARE SEEING HOW FUTILE THE INVESTMENT IN CRIMINALIZATION IS, AND FOLKS ARE RECOGNIZING, LIKE, YOU PROMISED US, IF WE DID THIS DRUG WAR, OUR PEOPLE WOULD BE SAFE.

OUR PEOPLE WOULD BE HEALTHY.

AND NOW, PEOPLE ARE RECOGNIZING THAT WE DID -- WE GOT THIS DRUG WAR, AND OUR PEOPLE ARE NOT SAFE, AND THEY ARE NOT HEALTHY, AND WE ARE ACTUALLY HARMING PEOPLE.

SO, PEOPLE ARE CALLING INTO QUESTION, LIKE, IF I GET TO CHOOSE, I'M GOING TO CHOOSE HEALTH, AND HEALTH DOES NOT HAPPEN THROUGH CRIMINALIZATION.

ALL RIGHT, SO, THEN, WITH THAT, I NOW WANT TO, OF COURSE, TURN TO THE ISSUE AROUND THE CHANGING OF LAWS REGARDING CANNABIS OR MARIJUANA, AS YOU POINTED OUT, WHICH IS SPECIFIC TO THIS COUNTRY.

FIRST, SPECIFICALLY, NEW YORK RECENTLY PASSED THE MARIJUANA REGULATION TAXATION ACT WHICH LEGALIZES ADULT USE OF CANNABIS.

BUT THE LAW DOES MORE THAN THAT, AND I WAS WONDERING, WHAT WERE THE THINGS THAT YOU THOUGHT STOOD OUT TO YOU THE MOST THAT WERE PERHAPS BENEFITS AND MAYBE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF THE LAW?

SO, I WOULD SAY, WHAT WE HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THIS CAMPAIGN FOR OVER A DECADE, BUILDING THE INFRASTRUCTURE TO REALLY PUSH BACK AGAINST MARIJUANA LAWS IN NEW YORK STATE.

AND THE THINGS THAT WE RECOGNIZE WAS THAT WE COULDN'T LEGALIZE CANNABIS IN A VACUUM.

BECAUSE THE CRIMINALIZATION OF CANNABIS WAS NOT HAPPENING IN A VACUUM.

IT WAS EXPANSIVE.

IT WAS COMPREHENSIVE.

AND IT WAS DESTRUCTIVE.

AND SO WHEN WE WERE LOOKING AT THE REGULATION OF THE PLANT, WE RECOGNIZED THAT IN ORDER FOR THAT TO ACTUALLY MEAN SOMETHING TO THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN MOST DEVASTATED, WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DECRIMINALIZE PEOPLE, SO WE HAVE TO REMOVE ALL THE WAYS THAT CRIMINALIZATION WAS ENTERING INTO PEOPLE'S LIVES BECAUSE OF CANNABIS.

SO, IT AUTOMATICALLY EXPUNGED RECORDS.

IT WORKED ON IMMEDIATE RE-SENTENCING FOR PEOPLE.

IT REMOVED THE DRUG WAR IMPACTS AROUND MARIJUANA PROHIBITION, AROUND HOUSING, IMMIGRATION, AND CHILD WELFARE.

IT REALLY WORKED TO GO THROUGH ALL THE HARMS ASSOCIATED WITH CANNABIS PROHIBITION AND REMOVE THOSE THINGS.

AND THEN, THE THING THAT WAS SUPER IMPORTANT FOR US WAS THAT THE MONIES, THE TAX REVENUE THAT WAS COMING FROM CANNABIS PROHIBITION WOULD BE REINVESTED IN OUR COMMUNITIES.

THIS WAS REALLY IMPORTANT FOR US, BECAUSE WE FELT LIKE FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS, NEW YORK HAS INVESTED SO MUCH IN THE CRIMINALIZATION OF OUR COMMUNITIES USING CANNABIS, AND NOW, WE WERE IN THIS MOMENT WHERE PEOPLE WERE GOING TO BE MAKING A TON OF MONEY AND THE STATE WAS GOING TO BE MAKING A TON OF MONEY AND WE WERE LIKE, BUT NOT AT OUR EXPENSE, RIGHT?

SO, WE PUSHED FOR THERE TO BE A PERCENTAGE OF THE MONEY TO GO TO COMMUNITIES INDEFINITELY, SO WHEN THE BILL PASSED, 40% OF ALL TAX REVENUE WILL GO TO COMMUNITIES MOST IMPACTED BY MARIJUANA PROHIBITION, THE ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAW, STOP AND FRISK, AND WE KNOW THOSE COMMUNITIES ARE PREDOMINANTLY COMMUNITIES OF COLOR.

THE OTHER 40% WILL BE GOING TO EDUCATION, PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

IN NEW YORK CITY, FOR EXAMPLE, 70% OF THE PEOPLE THAT WERE GETTING ARRESTED FOR CANNABIS WERE BETWEEN THE AGES OF 16 AND 21, RIGHT?

AND SO, WE WERE VERY CLEAR -- SORRY, 52%. WE WERE VERY, VERY CLEAR THAT WE NEEDED TO FOCUS ON YOUNG PEOPLE, AND WE WERE DOING THAT THROUGH EDUCATION.

AND THEN THE OTHER 20% WENT TO DRUG TREATMENT AND PUBLIC EDUCATION AROUND IT.

SO, MAKING SURE THAT THIS CANNABIS MONEY WAS NOT A WAY FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO FILL ITS COFFERS IN THE SAME WAY THEY FILLED THEIR COFFERS WITH CRIMINALIZING BLACK AND LATINO FOLKS.

AND THEN LASTLY, THE THING THAT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT TO US WAS THAT THE INDUSTRY HAD TO MAKE SENSE FOR THE COMMUNITIES MOST IMPACTED.

YOU KNOW, WE HAVE HAD A LEGACY MARKET IN THIS COUNTRY.

NEW YORK HAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGACY MARKETS IN THE COUNTRY.

IT'S ESTIMATED AT $3.2 BILLION, AND WE WERE VERY CLEAR, LIKE, THEY KNEW HOW TO FIND US TO ARREST US, AND SO THEY NEED TO BE ABLE TO FIND US TO MAKE SURE WE MAKE MONEY.

AND SO, HOW DO WE CREATE AN INDUSTRY STRUCTURE THAT ALLOWS THE MOST PEOPLE FROM THE COMMUNITY TO BE A PART OF IT?

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO CRITICS, TO THE COMMON PUSHBACK AGAINST THIS IS THAT BY LEGALIZING, YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY CLEARING THE PATH FOR HIGHER RATES OF DRUG ADDICTION, OVERDOSES, PARTICULARLY AMONGST YOUNGER PEOPLE.

YEAH.

SO, YOU KNOW, WHAT I SAY IS, THAT'S NOT TRUE.

ALL THE RESEARCH THAT HAS BEEN SHOWN SO FAR ABOUT CANNABIS LEGALIZATION HAS SHOWN THAT THESE THINGS ARE NOT GOING UP.

YOUNG PEOPLE AREN'T USING AT HIGH RATES.

CRIME IS NOT GOING UP.

THE SKY HAS NOT FALLEN, AND IN FACT, WE ARE CREATING NEW REVENUE SOURCES FOR GOVERNMENT TO TAKE CARE OF COMMUNITIES, AND ALSO, WE ARE OPENING UP THE SPACE FOR US TO HAVE MORE HONEST CONVERSATION ABOUT DRUGS IN PEOPLE'S EVERYDAY LIVES.

WHAT I OFTEN SAY IS PEOPLE WHO SELL DRUGS DON'T CHECK I.D.s, BUT STORES DO, AND THERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT NEED FOR US TO RECOGNIZE THAT DRUG PROHIBITION IS NOT CONTROL.

IT IS THE ABSENCE OF CONTROL.

REGULATION, US ACTUALLY FIGURING OUT WHAT ARE THE SUBSTANCES THAT PEOPLE ARE CONSUMING, FIGURING OUT WHO IS GETTING ACCESS TO THEM, PRODUCING THEM IN A WAY THAT THESE SUBSTANCES ARE NOT BEING ADULTERATED, MAKE EVERYONE SAFE.

AND SO, THE CONVERSATION AROUND REGULATION IS ONE ABOUT HOW DO WE ACTUALLY GET TO A PLACE WHERE WE HAVE MORE CONTROL ABOUT THE THINGS THAT PEOPLE CONSUME.

OF COURSE, WE ARE COMING UP ON THE END OF OUR TIME TOGETHER, ALTHOUGH THIS HAS BEEN SUCH A FASCINATING CONVERSATION, BUT LASTLY, I DO JUST WANT TO ASK, DO YOU THINK, THEN, BASED ON THE POLICY THAT NEW YORK HAS ENACTED, THAT IT'S POSSIBLE TO SCALE UP ON A NATIONAL LEVEL WITH ABOUT 30 SECONDS LEFT?

I THINK THE COUNTRY IS MORE THAN READY FOR FEDERAL MARIJUANA PROHIBITION.

I THINK FOLKS ARE DEPENDING ON FOLKS IN CONGRESS, AND I THINK YOU'RE SEEING PLACES LIKE THE SOUTH REALLY MOVE TOWARD LEGALIZING CANNABIS, EITHER FOR MEDICAL OR RECREATIONAL USE.

IT'S BEYOND TIME.

I THINK WE'RE BEHIND WHERE THE PUBLIC IS.

AND I'M REALLY EXCITED TO SEE THE REST OF THE COUNTRY LEGALIZE.

ALL RIGHT, WELL, LISTEN, IMPACT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US, AND DEFINITELY FOR TALKING THROUGH THIS ISSUE.

THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA AS I'M SURE THAT'S SOMETHING THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERING RIGHT NOW.

ANYWAY, THANK YOU SO MUCH, KASSANDRA FREDERIQUE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE.

IT WAS GREAT TO HAVE YOU ON 'METROFOCUS.'

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

> 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 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 THIS PROBLEM.

SO, JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT THAT TASK FORCE AND AS PART OF OUR ONGOING POWER IN PROMISE INITIATIVE, REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS, OUR EMILY NOBLE MAXWELL, CITY'S DIRECTOR FOR THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN NEW YORK.

EMILY, WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU, JENNA.

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

WELCOME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

SO, FIRST, EMILY, I JUST WANT TO START WITH YOU, AND FOR PEOPLE WHO MIGHT BE SCRATCHING THEIR HEAD AT THE NOTION OF AN URBAN FOREST, I MEAN, I GUESS WE KIND OF GET A SENSE FROM THE DESCRIPTION THAT I GAVE IN THE INTRO, BUT HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AN URBAN FOREST, AND WHAT IS ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN A CITY LIKE NEW YORK?

ABSOLUTELY.

SO OUR URBAN FOREST IS EVERY TREE IN NEW YORK CITY AND ALL OF THE PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE UPON WHICH THEY DEPEND.

SO, FORESTS ARE ALWAYS UNIQUE AND FASCINATING SYSTEMS, AND OUR URBAN FOREST IS NO LESS FASCINATING.

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

AND 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 A STREET WITH SHADE ON A HOT SUMMER DAY, AND I ASK YOU TO HOLD THAT IN YOUR MIND AS WE TALK ABOUT THE FOREST.

OF COURSE.

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

THAT, I MEAN, WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IT DOES MAKE SENSE, UNFORTUNATE SENSE, BUT IT DOES MAKE SENSE, BUT CAN YOU SORT OF EXPAND ON WHAT IT WAS THAT THE TASK FORCE WAS ABLE TO SUSS OUT?

YES, DEFINITELY, SO, 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.

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

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, AND WE REALLY START -- 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 JUST SORT OF EXPLAIN FOR THE AUDIENCE WHAT THAT IS AND THE IMPACT THAT IT HAS ON A NEIGHBORHOOD?

YES, DEFINITELY.

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

AND SO YOU HAVE THAT EFFECT PLUS THE NUMBER OF ADDITIONAL 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 CONDITIONS, IF YOU ALREADY HAVE ASTHMA OR ANOTHER PREEXISTING CONDITION, IT'S GOING TO MAKE YOU MORE VULNERABLE TO THESE HEAT WAVES.

AND 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, AND I'M WONDERING, I MEAN, 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.

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

WELL, 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 AND CONTINUE TO PROVIDE VITAL SERVICES.

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.

AND 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?

BECAUSE, 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 PLANS?

I LOVE THIS QUESTION, BECAUSE ACTUALLY, THERE'S 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.

AND 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, IN GOVERNMENT LAND, OR ON PRIVATE PROPERTY, AND PRIVATE PROPERTY IS HOVERING AROUND 36%. AND 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 PARK LAND, 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 FORESTS.

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

I MEAN, WE'VE, OVER THE YEARS, HEARD STORIES ABOUT, ESPECIALLY LOW-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS OR COMMUNITIES OF COLOR, THAT HAVE REALLY HAD TO FIGHT FOR JUST PLOTS OF LAND TO PUT IN URBAN GARDENS.

BUT ALSO, SOMETIMES YOU FIND LANDLORDS ARE RESISTANT TO THINGS LIKE GREEN ROOFS OR OTHER GREEN SPACES.

WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO BE DONE?

YEAH.

I WANT TO BUILD ON WHAT EMILY SAID.

I THINK, YOU KNOW, SHE TALKED ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TREES, BUT ONE OF MY PRIORITIES ARE STREET TREES.

THEY ARE SUCH AN IMPORTANT ASSET WHEN WE'RE WALKING THROUGH THE COMMUNITY, WHEN KIDS ARE WALKING TO SCHOOL, WHEN ELDERLY PEOPLE MAY BE WALKING TO A COOLING CENTER OR JUST GOING TO VISIT FAMILY, HAVING THAT TREE CANOPY COVERAGE IS CRITICAL TO PROVIDE CLEANER AIR, TO PROVIDE, YOU KNOW, 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, YOU KNOW, 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.

AND LIKE YOU MENTIONED, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT PLANTING TREES.

IT'S ABOUT MAINTAINING THE TREES.

AND ENSURING THAT THEY'RE HEALTHY, ENSURE 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, SO 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 GREEN -- RAIN GARDENS THAT DEP IS BUILDING, WHETHER IT'S GREEN ROOFS ON PUBLIC BUILDINGS OR PRIVATE BUILDINGS, OR WHETHER IT'S, YOU KNOW, COASTAL PROTECTION AND WATERFRONT PARKS ALONG OUR WATERWAYS.

THESE ARE ALL CRITICAL PIECES OF THE SOLUTION.

OKAY.

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

AND THAT, OF COURSE, WE ALL KNOW IN NEW YORK, NOTHING IS FREE.

AND SO MY NEXT QUESTION THAT 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 IT WAS HONESTLY AN INCREDIBLE THING TO SEE, IT GALVANIZED US.

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

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, YOU KNOW, SAFETY, TAKING A BREAK FROM WORK, YOU KNOW, WE'VE ALL NEEDED OUR OUTDOORS, REALLY, AS MUCH AS OR MORE THAN WE EVER HAVE THIS YEAR.

AND SO I THINK TREES HAVE BECOME THAT MUCH MORE PRECIOUS TO US, SO IT GALVANIZED US.

BUT IT ALSO CHALLENGED US.

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

UH-HUH.

AT THE SAME TIME, TREES AND OUR URBAN FOREST HAVE RECEIVED A DISPROPORTIONATE CUT, AND SO, YOU KNOW, 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%. AND SO, NOW, WE ARE IN THE BUDGET CYCLE FOR THE COMING YEAR, AND WE REALLY DO NEED TO RESTORE THE BUDGET FOR TREES.

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

WE DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT CONTINUE.

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

DEFINITELY.

I AM VERY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT WHAT WE CAN MAKE HAPPEN.

WE'RE WORKING CLOSELY WITH OUR MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS LIKE EL PUENTE IN SOUTH SIDE WILLIAMSBURG AND BUSHWICK TO UNDERSTAND THIS ISSUE, UNDERSTAND OUR AIR QUALITY ISSUES, UNDERSTAND OUR HEAT VULNERABILITIES AND ACT ON IT.

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

WELL, WE'RE GOING TO END THIS ON AN OPTIMISTIC NOTE, SO LADIES, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

EMILY NOBLE MAXWELL, THE CITY'S DIRECTOR FOR THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN NEW YORK AND OF COURSE ANNEL HERNANDEZ, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK CITY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ALLIANCE.

THANK YOU BOTH FOR JOINING ME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

ABSOLUTELY.

♪♪

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