“Hi, I noticed you have room for a street tree…”

Members of the BES team, clockwise from top-left: Tom Cogswell; Elizabeth Wren Shiffler; Gehron Burkholder; and Dimitra Giannakoulias. (FOT file)

Nothing beats the oh-so wonderful, ‘Y1.’ For the Bureau of Environmental Services’ crew canvassing Portland’s neighborhoods, this is the golden codename that gets a street tree in the ground.

As part of Portland’s Grey to Green Initiative with Friends of Trees, these city employees are in their first full-time season of detailed information gathering and door-to-door outreach.

The long-term goal: 83,000 street trees planted in five years. The short-term logistics: inform people about the correct way to plant responsibly via FOT and collect sidewalk data to streamline future planting seasons.

“It’s kind of like census data … some of it will be put to good use,” said Tom Cogswell, as he kicked up the overgrown grass to accurately measure a sidewalk’s width.

After only a few hours of walking in the Sunnyside Neighborhood around Southeast Belmont, it becomes apparent that not every sidewalk in Portland was created equally.

Some streets are ‘curb tight’ with the precise minimum dimensions required by the Americans with Disability Act, while other curbs can have over eight feet of additional planting space, enough room for an Oregon White Oak or a Tuliptree.

If you see this minivan, plant a tree. (FOT file)
If you see this minivan, plant a tree. (FOT file)

Sidewalk space, overgrown yard trees and looming power lines are the type of success factors these canvassers are dealing with even prior to approaching that front door.

“It’s a day-by-day, street-by-street thing,” said Dimitra Giannakoulias, who admitted her best day canvassing was six Y1s.

The checks and balances dictate what types of trees are approved by urban foresters for planting,  minimizing any chance of cracked sidewalks or clogged street drains, both common deterrents for home owners.

Even better than a Y1 is when a street is already “tree’d out,” according to Elizabeth Wren Shiffler, who also had several ‘PPP’s on her clip board, indicating a home had ‘potential’ for three street trees.

Shiffler said she loves talking to people and establishing that first wave of contact to homeowners, “so anything down the line is going to have that grain of positivity.”

“Making that positive experience … is the most important thing.”

The BES team can be reached at 503-823-TREE, or home owners can contact FOT directly about plantings in your area. Also, look for BES outreach events at: Belmont St. Fair, Sept. 12; PSU Farmers Market, Sept. 12; Montavilla Farmers Market, Sept. 13; Alberta Street Fair, Sept. 19; Fun on Foster, Sept. 26; and Welcome the Rain, Sept. 26.

–Toshio Suzuki