In the fall of 2012, just a few short weeks after my own street was submerged by the surge of Superstorm Sandy, a single sapling appeared on the sidewalk opposite the doorstep of my Brooklyn apartment building. The tree fairy — aka the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation — had paid a visit during the early morning hours and left an unexpected gift, already planted, of course, for my neighbors and I.
The slender young tree that now greets me every day as I step outside arrived complete with a tag listing its official ID number (000794) and species (Fraxinus pennsylvanica or green ash). My neighbors across the hall soon built a proper tree guard around the new addition using hardware store lumber. Flowers came later. I call the street tree Sandy. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow.
Today, thanks to NYC Parks’ newly launched New York City Street Tree Map, I can check in on Sandy to see how she’s doing by simply typing in my address and clicking on the green dot that appears just outside my building.
Although the species and ID number listed on the handy-dandy interactive map don’t match up with the species and ID number that I originally recorded when Sandy was first planted outside of my building (according to the map, she’s an Ulmus Americana or American elm, one of 8,346 lining the streets of NYC, with an ID number of 2556621), there’s still much to learn about Sandy: She has a trunk diameter of 3 inches and has received no recent care. And, if she had received any sort of care, I’d be able to create an account with the New York City Street Tree Map and log upkeep-related activity as well as "favorite" other trees lining the streets of the five boroughs.
And in a nice bit of synchronicity with a major new report just released by the Nature Conservancy that details the life-saving power of trees planted in dense urban areas, the map also lays out the ecological — and associated health — benefits of Sandy.
Per formulas provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Sandy — whatever kind of tree she is — absorbs 63 pounds of carbon dioxide annually while removing less than a pound of health-compromising air pollutants. She’s also capable of intercepting 346 gallons of stormwater while conserving 217 kilowatt-hours of energy through shading and cooling over the span of a year. All and all, Sandy’s total value of annual benefits is $33.29. Not too shabby.
Tracking the urban forest from Bay Ridge to Forest Hills
According to the New York City Street Tree Map, Sandy is one of just 178,544 sidewalk-gracing trees in Brooklyn — or one of 685,781 mapped street trees spread throughout all of the city. Manhattan can claim 66,434 trees, the Bronx has 86,345, Staten Island has an impressive106,054 and Queens, the Big Apple’s most sprawling borough by area, is home to 248,404 leafy streetside specimens.
When including parks and other public green spaces, New York City is home to roughly 5.2 million trees, a total that got a healthy boost thanks in part to the eight-year MillionTreeNYC initiative which wrapped up ahead of schedule last October.
As for the leafiest streets in each of the five boroughs, WNYC has the rundown on that. In Brooklyn, for example, the most tree-heavy street is the amply shaded Argyle Road, between Dorchester Road and Ditmas Avenue, in the Flatbush section. In Manhattan, trees reign supreme on West 69th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. The leafiest street in the borough of Queens is Hillyer Avenue between 51st Avenue and Kneeland Avenue in, most appropriately, the Elmhurst section. (The predominant street tree in Elmhurst isn't actually a variety of elm but the thornless honey locust, which comprises 18 percent of street trees in the neighborhood).
As for the least arboreal avenues in the city, Jennifer Greenfeld, New York City’s assistant commissioner for forestry, horticulture and natural resources, doesn't get super-specific.
“Some of the least leafy streets of New York City are the ones where it would be very difficult to get any more, like Midtown, Manhattan," she tells WNYC. "And you walk down the street there and you know there's not much else we can do about Midtown, Manhattan."
Despite the at-full-capacity nature of neighborhoods like Midtown, Greenfeld notes that there is indeed room for roughly 200,000 more street trees throughout the city.
In total, there are 209 different species of street trees in New York with 88,301 — or 13 percent — being the pollution-scrubbing, shade-providing London planetree (Platanus × acerifolia), a hybrid variety that, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, first emerged as a street tree par excellence in London during the mid-17th century. It’s the leaf of the London plane mixed with a maple leaf that serves as the iconic symbol of NYC Parks.
Looking at all of New York City's 675,781 mapped street trees collectively, they absorb 645 tons of pollutants from the air while sequestering 628,601 pounds of CO2 annually. Each year, they filter well over a billion gallons of stormwater while conserving 676,131,426 kWh of energy.
The total annual beneficial value of all these bark-clad beauties? A whopping $111,417,757.69.
In addition to allowing New Yorkers to keep tabs on individual trees in their own neck of the urban woods, the map features tabs where users can get a crash course in basic street tree care, learn about NYC Parks stewardship programs and view recent upkeep activity for other trees around the city. For example, a swamp white oak on East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side was recently subject to weeding and soil management while a Japanese zelkova was treated to a pruning session on N. 15th Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Users can also search for specific tree sizes and species within their own neighborhoods using a filtering tool.
The data integrated into the map was collected during the city’s latest TreesCount! street tree census, which was performed with the help of a team of more than 2,200 volunteers. The total number of street trees is an over 12 percent increase from the number counted during the last census in 2006.