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Clean Air & Community in Cully

NE Portland neighborhoods come together to plant for environmental justice

Earlier this month, 110 volunteers gathered in the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland for the first planting of our Clean Air Canopy project. The first volunteers to arrive to a planting event are the staging volunteers, who organize tools and trees for all the crews. At Cully, all of the staging volunteers were also treecipients—they’d have their own tree planted in their yard as part of the day’s activities. They were so excited to help, to get to know each other, and to help get trees planted, not just in their own yard but in their community.

“There was a lot of camaraderie from the get-go,” said Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Litzy Venturini. “It was a really positive morning with great energy from the moment I got there.”

This Clean Air Canopy project is the result of an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality lawsuit against a polluter in the neighborhood. The DEQ fined the facility and granted funds to Friends of Trees and our partners to lead community tree plantings in the area. This project would not be possible without our partners: Verde, the Cully Air Action Team (CAAT), and the Cully Association of Neighbors. Verde and CAAT’s advocacy work held this polluter accountable and led to this project’s creation.

“Polluted air and water are one of the biggest environmental injustices we face,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land. “Tree planting is among the most instant-impact civic actions you can perform.”

That sentiment was shared among volunteers, who were grateful to turn this negative—pollution—into a positive thing for their neighborhood. Volunteer crews planted 100 trees, and 31 different species of trees.

“Diversity in nature equates to resilience,” Andrew says. “Isolated species are very vulnerable in nature. If a pest or disease in the future attacks one of the species we’ve planted, we’ll still have many more out there to continue protecting us from air pollution from off highways.”

A special aspect to the day was that we had an entirely Spanish-speaking crew, led by Friends of Trees Field Tech Manuel Ku. That crew consisted of Los Líderes Verdes, who were training to become crew leaders themselves as part of our collaboration with Verde.

“It was a great day,” Litzy said. “There was that community feeling that makes events so special.”