9.11 and the Greening of a City

Callery Pear TreeThis posting goes live on the 11th anniversary of the attack on New York City.  It’s my hometown and the hometown of Avon: the company was founded here in 1886 and our global headquarters remains in Manhattan. This is not a mournful 9.11 tale. This is a hopeful reflection on how “green” is helping us heal from that dark day.

The 9.11 Memorial site in New York City includes the striking presence of trees.  To be exact, 412 White Swamp Oaks outlining the footprint of the World Trade Towers. Trees were added to the original design to “add texture, bring things down to a human scale and lend a sense of life and comfort.” Within this mini forest is the famous “survivor tree,” a single Callery Pear that was crushed and nearly incinerated under the falling Towers.  Salvaged and restored to health, it occupies a place of honor, representing hope and healing, and this tree is featured in a video on the 9.11 Memorial website.

Trees at the 9.11 Memorial are a meaningful part of the “greening” of New York, but the city has more ambitious plans. MillionTreesNYC, a citywide public-private program, is part of PlaNYC to strengthen New York City’s environment. So far MillionTreesNYC has planted 612,277 trees across the city, which is greater than the entire tree census of 2005-2006, which recorded 592,130 trees. An “adopt-a-tree” program engages citizens and community groups to help water and maintain the trees, and I am proud that my husband kept two new Locust trees on our block alive through the blistering 2012 summer.

The therapeutic benefits of trees on the human psyche are documented if not yet understood. Roger Ulrich, a professor and director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A & M University, found views of natural scenes or elements, such as trees, foster stress recovery and relaxation and reduce negative emotions. Ulrich also studied surgical patients and learned that those with views of nature had shorter hospital stays, required less pain medication and experienced fewer minor post-operative complications compared to patients whose room faced a brick wall. Research studies have also shown the presence of trees and greenery helps reduce urban crime, ranging from graffiti and vandalism to property crime and violence, including domestic violence.

The New York City government has played a critical role in driving a green city under the guidance Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.  To ensure continuation of this focus in the future, the City Council last month unanimously passed legislation to create two Climate Change Panels, bringing together government agencies, the private sector and scientists to imbed climate change planning into the city’s functions. The panels serve as “an institutional government mechanism” to assess and address climate change science and its impact on New York City – including the projection that sea level around the city will rise five feet by the end of the century.

On a day when the world pauses to remember the victims and families of 9.11, I am also sending a message of gratitude for the healing presence of the indomitable Callery Pear and the 412 White Swamp Oaks whose green embrace provides solace in a place of sadness.

About: Susan Arnot Heaney

Former Executive Director, Corporate Responsibility, Avon Products, Inc.

One comment on “9.11 and the Greening of a City

  1. Beautiful article Susan. I share your sentiments that a befitting memorial to those who passed so tragically should be something deep rooted that gives to future generations. Trees are so perfect on so many levels.

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