At its most basic, the job of a city arborist is to plant, prune, remove and otherwise care for that most precious of urban artifacts — the trees. But theirs is also the job of climate savior.
About 20 percent of the city is covered in green, a “tree canopy” that the city is hoping to grow over time as part of its sustainability plan. That’s about 3 million trees — including 117,000 along the streets — which store about 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; remove over 500 tons of pollution every year; and reduce residential energy costs by $7 million a year. Just one big tree can hold thousands of gallons of water on its surface, helping to reduce flooding and work towards another city (and earth) goal of cutting the stormwater runoff into the rivers.
And — this is no small thing — trees make our city more beautiful. Full stop. Just take a glance out the window to see spring in the cherry blossoms and magnolias. It’s a reminder that this concrete palazzo we inhabit is a living thing, full of life and energy and possibility.
In the fall, TreePhilly commissioned local photographer — and Citizen contributor — Sabina Louise Pierce to do a series of portraits of arborists, a varied bunch of urban nature lovers whom we can thank for caring for our foliage. The photos will be on display in the main branch of The Free Library, on the second floor, through the summer. As Pierce has noted, “Some have master’s degrees and all could make more in the private sector but they do this because they love trees!”
If you see any of them today, do thank them. It’s Arbor Day, after all.
“We are fortunate to have such diverse natural areas in our city, and we have a great responsibility to care for them. My hope is that the trees I grow today will benefit the city and its environment well into the future.”
–Max Blaustein, Nursery Manager, Ecosystem Management, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“What do I love about trees? Seasonal beauty! There’s something beautiful about trees in every season . . . Outstanding colors, subtleness. Some trees are BOLD.”
–Lori Hayes, Director of Urban Forestry, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“People talk about cities as living, breathing organisms. The trees are the lungs. I want to help our city have a healthy respiratory system because Philadelphia’s not getting any younger.”
–Ben Stanko, District Arborist, Street Tree Management, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“You know what it feels like when you stand next to a tree? It’s like standing next to the ocean. It really humbles you, you know what I mean?”
–Joe Toohey, Regional Arborist, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“I enjoy the outdoors, you know. There’s always something new to learn within the field.”
–Chris Johnson, Tree Maintenance Crew Chief, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“Me gusta el trabajo de los arboles porque es un trabajo afuera. No me gusta trabajar en la oficina.”
–Jose Melendez, Tree Maintenance Worker, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“It’s good to give back to the community and make things more beautiful.”
–Sean Hubbard, Tree Maintenance Worker, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“They say, you’ll never work if you do what you love. I do this work because of my love of trees and because I want to be a good steward of the natural resources.”
–Dave Cupps, District Arborist, Street Tree Management, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
“I feel like trees are the neurons that connect us to the universe. You know, if you look at trees, the way they branch. They root into the earth with their roots and then they reach up into the sky, into the solar system, and connect us to whatever’s out there.”
–Curtis Helm, Park Manager 2, Ecosystem Management Division, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Erica Smith Fichman, TreePhilly’s program manager, who was awarded The Arbor Day Foundation’s Trailblazer Award this week for her work in Philly, where she has overseen the distribution of over 19,000 trees since its launch in 2012.
Text by Roxanne Patel Shepelavy.Sabina Louise Pierce