Speak For The Trees and BU Urban Collaborate to Enrich Boston’s Urban Canopy Cover

Courtesy of Speak For The Trees

By Shiyang Yi

Boston University News Service

Speak For The Trees, a Boston-based organization founded in 2018, is partnering with BU Urban Program to educate Boston residents on scientific knowledge of planting trees and fostering a healthy urban canopy.

“Our mission is to improve people’s lives through trees; that’s their health, their well-being, their sense of community, their sense that they can make a difference in improving the future,” said David Meshoulam, the executive director and co-founder of Speak For The Trees. 

Collaborating with Ph.D. students from BU Urban program, Speak For The Tree aimed at tackling urban environmental challenges and educating citizens about trees in Boston neighborhoods.

Meshoulam came up with the idea of establishing Speak For The Trees in 2018 to confront the global climate crisis. The organization is aimed at helping neighborhoods with low tree canopies and developing a mutual commitment across Boston to protect urban canopies.

“We focus especially on communities that have not had adequate tree coverage and have also suffered from other sorts of systemic inequities,” said Meshoulam, “There needs to be a shared commitment across all sectors of the city. A commitment to not only plant new trees but also make sure that we’re planting the right trees and we’re taking good care of them. And it needs to be coordinated. And I don’t think right now there’s much coordination.”

To improve coordination among residents, Speak For The Trees has formed long-term partnerships with BU Urban Program since 2018 and other Boston institutions to educate people to think strategically about where they should plant trees and what kinds of trees benefit the environment.

BU Urban is the short name for Boston University Graduate Program in Urban Biogeoscience and Environmental Health, providing internships for Ph.D. students at Boston University in Biogeoscience, Environmental Health, and Statistics to learn hands-on experience and interdisciplinary methods.

Heather Hoi-Yi Ho, the program director of the BU Urban Program, said their goal is to develop a diverse workforce of scientists and practitioners equipped with the technical knowledge and communication skills required to create a sustainable, healthy, and equitable future. 

“In our collaboration with [Speak For The Trees], we hope to empower community members from vulnerable communities to become more aware of the issue of inequitable tree canopy cover and its implications for the health of residents living in Boston neighborhoods,” said Ho.

Jessica Wright—a Ph.D. student in the department of earth and environment at BU and four-year trainee of BU Urban Program and Speak For The Trees focusing on natural gas distribution infrastructure— recently led a group of teenagers to walk across Dorchester and educated them on the perspective of gas leaks and trees. 

“My role is looking at street trees and energy infrastructure,” said Wright, “And in Boston, that infrastructure is quite old, in a lot of pipes are made of leak-prone materials. So leaking actual gas has become quite an issue. And that can threaten the health of street trees because the leaked gas can enter soil, pets and diminish oxygen that’s available for the trees to respire, causing damage or death of street trees, especially newly planted ones.”

Ho added that BU Urban trainees are tasked with translating research results into formats that all community members can absorb, “even those who may not have advanced training in science.” 

Wright says that participating in this cooperative project is a valuable opportunity for graduate students to practice science and share it with audiences they might not typically engage with. 

“Presenting to a public audience, that’s it’s a good opportunity for us to practice science, communication, and understand applied science in a way that we might not get in the classroom,” said Wright.

Speak For The Trees intends to engage residents in conversation and amplify voices about trees. Courtesy of Speak For The Trees

By providing free trees for residents through giveaway events, holding tree [lanting events in low-canopy neighborhoods, and hiring 15 teenagers to learn about trees each summer, Speak For The Trees intends to engage residents in conversation and amplify voices about trees, according to Meshoulam.

“We have a goal of actually not only providing trees to residents but actually working more closely with them to plant the trees,” said Meshoulam.

Wright was introduced to Speak For The Trees shortly after it started and witnessed its growth over the years. “When I first was introduced to Speak for the Trees, they were a much smaller organization,” said Wright, “I think it’s just been really nice to watch them grow as an organization over the past couple of years and continue to really stay true to their mission.”

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