While New York City lags behind other major cities in certain hot-button sustainability issues such as recycling, the Big Apple has proven itself to be a zippy trailblazer when it comes to ambitious public tree-planting schemes.

Two years ahead of schedule, the city will soon surpass the 999,999 mark in its heralded MillionTreesNYC initiative.

Launched in 2007 as a joint effort between the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bette “the Wind Beneath My Leaves” Midler’s city beautification nonprofit, the New York Restoration Project, the citywide tree-planting effort was supposed to roll out over a 10-year period and conclude in 2017. But in a lovely — and somewhat uncharacteristic — twist, MillionTreesNYC is on the verge of achieving the big sextuple “O” prematurely.

The millionth tree, an 8-year-old lacebark elm soaring 25 feet into the sky, was installed yesterday at Joyce Kilmer Park in the South Bronx, not too far from the spot where tree numero uno was planted back in 2007. However, today’s official planting ceremony, an event to be attended by Midler, Bloomberg and current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, was postponed. In addition to celebrating a single tree, the event was to serve as a rare — and much-hyped — joint appearance between Democrat de Blasio and his billionaire Republican predecessor.

The planting of the One Millionth Tree, originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 21, has been postponed until further notice. We look forward to celebrating the completion of the MillionTreesNYC initiative at a later date.

While the MillionTreesNYC website doesn’t make clear why exactly the capstone celebration was postponed, it’s safe to assume that it has to do with the fatal shooting of an NYPD officer last night in East Harlem. The Empire State Building was also slated to be lit up in a swath of “forest green” to mark the occasion but that has been postponed as well.

In any event, New York City’s millionth tree is in the ground and ready to be celebrated when appropriate.

Deborah Marton, executive direction of New York Restoration Project, tells DNAInfo: "There was such an excitement about the initiative, and so many people were volunteering that we ended up accomplishing a great deal faster than we thought we were going to. So we realized that we could complete it earlier, so we decided to take that opportunity to do it."

A tree in Brooklyn planted as part of the MillionTreesNYC campaignA tree (and 184,000 others) grow in Brooklyn ... including this one in Red Hook. (Photo: Matt Hickman)

New Yorkers should be proud of its city’s tree-planting prowess. While other cities including Los Angeles and Boston and have embarked on large-scale urban reforestation campaigns, none have been as successful as MillionTreeNYC. As of 2012, Boston continued to struggle to meet its 100,000-tree goal set five years prior. Launched in 2006, Million Trees LA slowly but surely reached the 400,000-mark in 2013 but was eventually discontinued. City Plants, a "low canopy" neighborhood-centric effort that focuses on planting "in a way that maximizes the benefits trees provide rather than on reaching as specific number of trees," took its place.

MillionTreesNYC spreads the leafy love more or less equally across all five boroughs. Queens saw the most arboreal action with the planting of 285,000 new trees followed by the Bronx (280,000), Brooklyn (185,000), Staten Island (175,000) and Manhattan (75,000).

Special attention was paid to six particularly tree-starved neighborhoods with higher than average asthma rates. These neighborhoods — Hunts Points and Morrisania in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, East Harlem in Manhattan, the Rockaways in Queens and Stapleton on Staten Island — were designated as Trees For Public Health (TPH) neighborhoods by campaign officials.

During the spring and fall tree planting seasons, the Parks Department will conduct block-by-block street tree planting in the six TPH neighborhoods, while New York Restoration Project and other non-profit partners coordinate tree planting on other public, institutional and private land, as well as engage in public education and community outreach activities. The goal is to completely green an entire neighborhood with an abundance of newly planted trees on both public and private lands.

Additional trees were given to New York City homeowners for planting on private property.

In the somewhat bleak weeks following Superstorm Sandy, a slender young tree arrived on my formerly flooded-out street in Red Hook, Brooklyn — directly in front of the entrance to my building, in fact. Marked with a red ID red tag with the number 0007934, she’s a Fraxinus pennsylvanica or green ash. I call her Sandy.

In total, MillionTreesNYC has boosted the total number of trees in New York City by 20 percent. New York is now home to roughly 5.2 million trees — 1 million more than there was just 8 years ago.

Spanning 168 different species, these trees, both new and old, do what trees do best: provide shade and reduce energy consumption in buildings, beautify otherwise devoid-of-green urban streetscapes and scrub the air of harmful pollutants that can lead to respiratory ailments. They also make people, well, happy.

Collectively, New York City’s tree population is capable of removing 2,202 tons of particulate matter from the air while sequestering 1.35 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The trees also help to reduce urban runoff by capturing 890 million gallons of stormwater annually.

The speed and success of MillionTreesNYC is due largely to the tag-team effort between the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and New York Restoration Project. As the New York Times reports, while the city zeroed-in on streets and public parkland (750,000 new trees in total) Midler’s organization filled in the gaps and “focused its planting on publicly accessible private lands, including cemeteries, college campuses, hospitals and apartment buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority.”

And just because MillionTreesNYC has reached the million mark, doesn’t mean that all tree-planting will cease across the city. Separately from the campaign, New York Restoration Project continues to plant away in the Mott Haven section South Bronx.

Via [NYT], [DNAInfo]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

New York City is now home to 1 million new trees
The streets are a lot greener and the air is a lot cleaner than it was 8 years ago.