NYC Million Tree Target-compressed Photo: Ben+Sam/Flickr

Advocates for a greener New York City are celebrating, because they hit a goal that no other American city has hit before: 1 million trees planted within the span of a decade.

Million Trees NYC is a collaboration between the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and The New York Restoration Project (NYRP). It actually accomplished its 1 million tree goal two years ahead of schedule, increasing the urban canopy by 20 percent.

Los Angeles, Denver and Boston have all set the same goal, but are still in-progress. “Other major cities have set similarly ambitious goals, but they’ve all suffered setbacks, ranging from inadequate resources to high rates of tree mortality,” said the NYRP.

The NYRP credits its success with its unique public-private partnership. In 2007, the City committed approximately $350 million to plant three quarters of the trees. The next year, Mayor Bloomberg and philanthropist David Rockefeller personally contributed $10 million towards the goal. The NYRP also received significant donations from corporations, including Home Depot, Toyota, and TD Bank.

To distribute the funding effectively, the NYRP used public data to find out what neighborhoods actually needed more trees. Hundreds of thousands of trees were already mapped when the project began. The Parks Department identified high-need areas by overlaying urban canopy maps with community health survey maps. It turns out that unemployment, low incomes and children’s hospitalization rates for asthma all correlate with the absence of trees.

Using that information, the NYRP created the largest free tree giveaway program in the country and was able to plant 195,465 trees in residents’ front and backyards.

It also didn’t hurt that Million Trees NYC had high profile support through an energized celebrity — one who continues to make beautifying NYC her passion project. The idea for one million trees began eight years ago, when Bette Midler was showing off 600 just-planted blossoming cherry trees along the Harlem and Hudson Rivers to Mayor Bloomberg. She said, “Why should we stop here?”

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