Home Local Chicago planted 18,000 trees this year with 33% going to neighborhoods with the highest need, officials say

Chicago planted 18,000 trees this year with 33% going to neighborhoods with the highest need, officials say

by staff

Something was missing in North Lawndale. When Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick walked down the street, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but when she visited another part of the city, it became clear.

“It’s the tree canopy that’s making a difference,” she said. “It’s beautiful, it’s green, it’s fresh, it’s vibrant.”


With only 10.7% of its land shaded by trees, some blocks are completely bare. The citywide average is 16%. From 2011 to 2021, the neighborhood received on average 4.1 new trees per street mile, a seventh of the tree-planting rate in the North Side’s Edgewater neighborhood.

But this year, the city planted 957 trees in North Lawndale, the most of any neighborhood, according to data from the city.


“It’s going to make the difference for this community,” Fitzpatrick said.

In the first year of Our Roots Chicago, the city’s program to address tree canopy inequity, 33% of the trees planted went to 11 priority neighborhoods, including North Lawndale.

The city exceeded its goal and planted 18,000 trees, but this year was one of sorting out operational challenges, resolving a three-year backlog of 311 requests and recruiting tree ambassadors to advocate for trees in priority neighborhoods, city spokesperson Mimi Simon said.

“We will continue this momentum into year two and are confident in our ability to foster a more equitable tree canopy for all,” Simon said in an email.

Chicago’s tree canopy decreased throughout the 2010s and falls short compared with other major cities. And during that lag, the city planted significantly fewer trees in neighborhoods on the South and West sides, according to a Chicago Tribune investigation.

Research shows fewer trees in neighborhoods can mean an increase in the effects of climate change, leading to hotter temperatures, more flooding and dirtier air.

Under Our Roots, some neighborhoods have been identified as priority areas for tree planting as the city aims to expand its overall canopy coverage. But planting is just one part of providing the benefits of trees to all Chicagoans, said Michael Dugan, director of forestry for Openlands, a tree advocacy organization.

The addition of the Urban Forestry Advisory Board approved by City Council last year is another promising first step, he said. This board is responsible for recommending tree canopy policies and developing a management plan for the city.


“We need everybody to be on board,” Dugan said.

Here are the number of trees planted in the city’s other 10 priority areas:

  • 553 in Back of the Yards/New City
  • 460 in Greater Grand Crossing
  • 394 in McKinley Park
  • 87 in Armour Square
  • 462 in Austin
  • 529 in Little Village/South Lawndale
  • 257 in East Garfield Park
  • 393 in Brighton Park
  • 695 in Humboldt Park
  • 435 in Near West Side

Altogether, 5,222 trees were planted in these neighborhoods, out of almost 16,000 planted by the city Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Department of Transportation.

The city’s half-million street trees, those often found on the strip of grass between roadways and sidewalks, make up a part of the overall canopy coverage, along with trees in parks and yards.

The Chicago Park District also planted trees this year, which were factored into the 18,000 total but not accounted for in the city’s neighborhood breakdown because these trees were planted in parks.

A Seven-D Construction Co. landscaper waters a tree after several were planted along the 3400 block of West Pershing Road in Chicago on Oct. 20, 2022.

According to slides prepared for a working group that helps set goals for the Our Roots program, the nearly 16,000 trees planted on public parkways this year was up from last year’s 10,000. Between 2016 and 2020, about 6,000 trees were planted yearly in the parkways on average.


Pilot programs for tree ambassadors were launched in Little Village and North Lawndale where volunteers were taught how to advocate for trees and to file 311 requests for viable planting locations. Those requests were given priority. Since the first tree ambassador training in June, the city received 380 requests for 416 trees through the program, some of which are set to be planted in the spring.

Kimberly George, the community asset manager for Young Men’s Educational Network and a tree ambassador, describes these trees as an investment in her community. At one of the gardens where she works, there are two pear trees, planted several decades ago by leaders before her. Now, the community is reaping the benefits of those trees. The new saplings coming into the neighborhood are a way to pay it forward, she said.

“One day, young people will have shade because of the little bit of work I did and the tree ambassadors are doing,” she said.

Risa Prezzano, who works with Openlands and is a tree ambassador, said planting these trees is a first step to addressing disparities. She hopes to see metrics next year regarding the survival rate of the trees planted through the program.

“It is a step in the right direction,” Prezzano said. “I think it’s just a matter of keeping it going.”

Part of keeping up the momentum requires robust canopy planning, Dugan said. The Urban Forestry Advisory Board is part of creating a “common goal” with a “shared voice,” he said.


Daniella Pereira, vice president of community conservation for Openlands, was recently nominated to the board.

“Having a board dedicated to strategically caring for Chicago’s tree canopy makes the city stronger and more resilient by investing in nature-based climate solutions and improving the health and well-being of communities throughout Chicago,” Pereira said in a statement from Openlands.

In North Lawndale, caring for the new trees, like newborn babies, will “take a village,” Fitzpatrick said. But she believes involving everyone can change the trajectory of the community. She hopes the tree program will be a catalyst for future programming focused on making the neighborhood “blossom,” by being vibrant and healthy.

“And what better way to do that than to bring in trees?” she said.


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