Trees and wealthy neighbourhoods

Like people, not all trees are born equal. While some of Toronto's more than three million trees grow in lush ravines or well-mulched back gardens, others struggle for life in overly paved schoolyards and post-industrial soils. With 17% of Toronto covered by a tree canopy, when it comes to distributing those trees and the shade they provide, often it is the more wealthy neighbourhoods that also happen to be better tree-endowed than other less affluent areas of the city.

For example, a tree inventory carried out by the environmental community group Grassroots Albany determined that there are approximately 85 trees per acre of the prosperous Annex neighbourhood. Compared that to the less than ten trees per acre in the Davenport neighbourhood, an area with the second lowest average family income in Ontario that has only 23% of the parkland of most Toronto neighbourhoods. The differences are startling.

Enter Andrea Dawber and the members of GreenHere, a not-for-profit community group determined to increase green space in the Davenport neighbourhood. Although at first glance GreenHere's mandate might seem strictly environmental, Dawber explains that the quality of a neighbourhood's environment and the health of its residents can be understood in tandem.

"Everybody wants clean air, clean water," says Dawber, "and we've had enough really hot smoggy summers in Toronto that people now understand that correlation between having a forested neighbourhood and having a healthy environment for themselves and their families."

Working out of a basement office in the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre, GreenHere hopes to create a thriving urban forest sustained through local stewardship. While GreenHere's programs include free tree planting in private backyards, an emphasis is placed on Davenport's public spaces in the hopes of transforming the neighbourhood's parks and schoolyards into what Dawber calls "local hubs for the community."

The group's projects include replacing overgrown shrubs in Wadsworth Park — where hidden assaults on kids from the local public school were taking place — with a new row of native trees. At the nearby Pope Paul Catholic School, GreenHere teamed up with local students last year to plant 17 mature trees in their almost entirely concrete and shadeless schoolyard. GreenHere has also been one of the driving forces behind the creation of a tree-lined boulevard along Gladstone Avenue between Dupont Street and Bloor Street.

With the help of GreenHere and other tree-planting efforts like it, the City aims to have 35% of Toronto covered by a tree canopy by 2050. Dawber's target is slightly more ambitious: 100%. Yet, with estimates claiming that Toronto's canopy will actually decline to 10% over the next several years, it's an uphill battle — but one Dawber thinks is well worth fighting for. "It's a huge quality of life issue," she says, "for people every day in the neighbourhood."