I have unofficially decided to name Portland “The City of Trees”.
For anyone who has spent any amount time in this city, this can not come as a surprise. You can hardly walk downtown or in the surrounding areas without noticing the amount of trees and green space visible.
The City of Portland, recognizing that trees are a vital part of urban forest ecosystems, tracks the canopy cover citywide. Canopy cover is a percentage that represents the percent that a tree canopy shows up on a top-down look at the city. In 2015 they reported that the citywide canopy cover was 30.7%. With research continually confirming what many seem to already know, the benefits of having trees in such close proximity to a huge population of people provide a lot of health and environmental benefits.
The organization I am working with, Friends of Trees (FoT), have made it their mission to help increase the tree population in Portland (and drive that canopy percentage up), by inspiring communities to come together and learn about, plant, and care for a tree of their own. It is a mission that directly benefits the health and safety (did you know cars will actually travel down a street considerably slower if there are trees lining it?) of those who participate, as well as provides indirect benefits for everyone (think reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere, providing physical and mental health benefits, etc.).
Actualizing this mission takes an immense amount of work and logistical planning. After listening in on meetings, and getting a basic run down of how the organization operates and what the different parts do, I could see the intensity of the work required to pull off planting events almost every weekend throughout the planting season (November-ish to April-ish), coordinate thousands of volunteers, and service a large number of Portland’s neighborhoods and public spaces (and even some of the surrounding areas outside of PDX). Even in the “off” season when planting is not occurring there is an almost overwhelming amount of work to be done from upkeep for the plants and trees planted in previous years, making sure they survive, to starting to plan and prepare for the next planting season. It is enough to seem like an impossible task, but somehow the 27 or so fulltime staff manage to pull it off year after year (for 30 years and over 700,000 trees and native shrubs planted since their start in 1989!!), doing so with nothing short of a smile on their face.
Maybe it’s the absurdity of the task at hand, or maybe it’s their drive and passion for the environment and the communities that they live in that keeps that smile there. Whatever the reason is, I am so glad I have the opportunity to spend my summer with these people, and participate in the work that is making a difference, not only in the physicality of it but in changing and inspiring the people and communities it touches.