Friends of Trees founder Richard Seidman’s initial goal was to build stronger communities in neighborhoods. He hoped that tree planting would offer a way for neighbors to meet each other, start conversations, and build lasting relationships, weaving a connective fabric through the neighborhood.
During the first planting and with every additional Friends of Trees planting, this community building has been witnessed by neighborhood coordinators, crew leaders, and Friends of Trees staff, and experienced by homeowners and neighborhood volunteers. People often comment that they say hello now when they pass their neighbor’s house and admire the growing tree that they helped plant. So here at Friends of Trees, we truly believe that trees, from their initial planting, help build community.
In addition to our anecdotal evidence, scientific research has shown a link between urban greenery, such as trees, and strong communities. The environment around us can influence whether or not we spend time outside and interact with others. Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that people spend more time in public spaces, such as parks, plazas, and our neighborhood streets when trees and other greenery are present. This increases the opportunity for interactions between people.
In addition, research has shown that simply viewing nature, or urban greenery, can decrease stress levels and enable people to cope better with day-to-day hardships. While this is not direct community building, it helps to foster a more adept and healthy community of residents within a neighborhood.
Trees and urban greenery not only enhance the ability of residential neighborhoods to build community, they also positively contribute to our business districts. Studies indicate that shoppers prefer to spend more time in canopied business districts and perceive merchants in those districts more positively than merchants in districts with fewer trees. This ultimately results in wider community networks encompassing not just where we live, but also where we work, shop, and play.
Richard Seidman hoped that trees might not only help us build community in our surrounding neighborhood and city, but also help connect us to trees around the world, truly expanding our community.
“I felt that society was in a collective state of denial about the destructiveness to the environment of our economy and our culture,” he said. “I thought getting together to do a tree planting in a city would be a positive step. … I believed that if people could learn to empathize with the tree in front of their house, they’d be capable of valuing trees in forests all over the world.”
Want to learn more about the benefits of trees?
Timm is a Neighborhood Trees Specialist for Friends of Trees.