Want your city to be greener? Take some notes from Globeville

Trees ready to be distributed to Globeville residents at the Globeville Pocket Park at E.44th Ave and Pearl Street. April 20, 2024. Photo by Emily Moyer.

In an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change and the dangers of elevated temperatures, many cities have adopted plans to increase tree canopy coverage in densely populated urban areas. Back in 2022, Denver Parks and Recreation set their sights on supporting a citywide urban forest. One strategy they’ve implemented since is tree planting, which relies heavily on community involvement. Emily Moyer is a graduate student pursuing an MFA (in the printmaking area) at CU Boulder, and is a Arts Community Organizer in Denver. She went to Globeville, and has the details.

Volunteers with The Park People, Left to Right: Chaille Lempcke, Terry Hausler, and John Sepulveda. Residential backyard in Globeville on April 20, 2024. Photo by Emily Moyer.

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    Want your city to be greener? Take some notes from Globeville Jackie Sedley

Transcript:

Emily Moyer: A small but mighty group gathers on a snowy Saturday morning in Globeville, ready to get their hands dirty.

Sort of making our way. Do you want to try this shovel and I’ll take that shovel? Sure, yeah, is that one better for going…

Moyer: They’ve come together for a community tree planting event, organized by Bird Seed Collective, the Park People, the Nature Conservancy, and Denver Parks and Rec. Everyone’s eager to get planting. It’s an exciting day for Globeville residents. The whole community has been in the loop for a month or so. Dawn Diaz and others with Bird Seed Collective made sure to spread the word.

Dawn Diaz: Um, so, we went door to door and asked neighbors if they wanted a tree, if they were interested in a tree.

Um, Bird Seed paid for the trees that they got, we got from park people. Then after that, we put them on a list later on when about a week ago. We started to call everybody and let them know hey your trees are here if you’re gonna come pick them up or are we taking them to you and planting them and I already went and marked the spots where we’re gonna plant them got permission from them that if they’re not there, can we still plant? And yeah. So everything’s set to go.

Moyer: Dawn grew up in Globeville and is making an effort to help local residents be directly involved in re-greening their neighborhood from the ground up.

Diaz: It makes it more personal and it gives us a responsibility to take care of what is ours versus when the city comes and plants trees, that’s their responsibility. So our intent is to combine everybody and have us have some togetherness.

Moyer: It’s no secret that trees can help revive cities bogged down by industry and pollution. But some benefits are less obvious than others, as Colorado Urban Conservation Manager Chris Hawkins with the Nature Conservancy explains.

Chris Hawkins: Yeah, I mean, the research is super abundant at this point that trees provide tons of benefits, not just, obviously, addressing heat. Trees can address air quality issues, especially around particulate matter, reducing particulate matter. Trees also help with mental health. They get people out and, you know, recreating more and able to recreate and walk more, which helps with just physical health, cardiovascular health. Um, they help certainly with, you know, perceptions of quality of life and then, you know, just generally support human health and wellbeing.

Moyer: The list of tree benefits goes on. Tree canopies have been attributed to slower driving speeds, lower crime levels, and even improved healing time after surgery. In Globeville specifically, the need for these types of benefits is very high. Denver’s average tree canopy is 25%, while the Globeville area has just 5%. Some of the lowest tree canopy coverage in the entire city of Denver.

Hawkins: And so one of the things that we can do to address heat is to create shade, right? Um, and so areas in Denver that, you know, are shaded tend to, you know, have better human health outcomes and

Globeville has about 5 percent tree canopy cover. That’s about 7 times less, 7 to 8 times less than a lot of wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. And that’s pretty classic kind of situation across a lot of cities, a lot of neighborhoods in Denver, a lot of cities nationally.

At a neighborhood backyard in Globeville, three volunteers from The Park People (Chaille Lemcke, Terry Hausler, John Sepulveda) dig a hole to plant a tree in. April 20, 2024. Photo by Emily Moyer.

Moyer: Anthony Garcia Sr. grew up in Globeville. His family has been connected to the neighborhood for five generations. He’s the executive director of Birdseed Collective, an arts focused non profit that runs the Globeville Rec Center. And says the geography of the neighborhood has had particularly negative health impacts on its residents.

Garcia Sr.: I think the location of Globeville has always been very important to me because it has such defined boundaries, I 70, I 25, BNSF Railroad, as well as the The Platte River, south Platte River, you know, growing up it’s always been, ’cause it’s kind of enclosed in its own little self, very tight community and neighborhood. Um, now that I’m an adult, I could see the impact that that has caused on, you know, environmental health and, um, overall health in general of the people that have lived in that neighborhood ’cause of, uh, high pollutants that were. Planted in the soil, um, that’s ran along that area of the river as well as, you know, air pollution and noise pollution from the railroad and the two highways that intersect right where our neighborhood is at.

Moyer: Not only is Globeville divided by I-25, I-70, and the BNSF railway, which you may have already heard in the background, Globeville was also home to multiple smelters beginning in the late 1800s, which deposited toxins like arsenic and lead across the neighborhood for over 100 years. Globeville became a designated Superfund site in 1993, with topsoil and residential lots being removed and replaced. That initiative left residents disappointed and frustrated, since many trees were removed and the new soil was too low in nutrients to support plant growth. That disappointment and frustration inspired a need for direct community involvement.

Garcia Sr.: Our neighbors have known about You know, the issues that we face for years now, but as it starts to get more like a spotlight put on our neighborhood and these issues, pots of money are popping up. And so we’ll see multiple organizations come out every year and just try to, you know, they all mean well, but they, you know You know, they’re part of their job is to find money, you know, and so, uh, they will come into the neighborhood and try to do their best to serve the neighborhood to get, you know, get a certain grant to make this happen. Um, but the neighbors don’t respond to them that well because they have no relationship with anybody in the community. Fortunately for us in our neighborhood, like I said, I was born and raised there. My mom lived there. My grandma, great-grandma, everybody has lived there for years. All these people, like, we’re a big family. So when we’re able to connect them to resources, they have, it’s coming from a trusting place.

Moyer: The Nature Conservancy is an outside organizer and funder of efforts to support re greening projects across the globe. They’re sensitive to the concerns Garcia mentioned. Here’s the Conservancy’s Chris Hawkins again.

Hawkins: Nature Conservancy is the largest environmental organization in the world. Um, you know, I think it is our responsibility in that way to, be able to show up with resources for community based partners for them to really lead their vision for their community, right? I think it’s you know a dynamic that happens I think frequently is that outside organizations often come in I think with an agenda and with their own incentives and their own kind of narrative and Sometimes that gets forced on community based organizations And that can be really tricky because, you know, as a community-based organization, I think sometimes it’s hard to turn away resources and collaboration. And I think the onus has to be on, you know, organizations that are showing up with resources to do so in a way that doesn’t, I think, hinder other, you know, things that a community is trying to address. So Birdseed Collective does a lot of different work in the community. What I would say is really significant is that Birdseed’s really been able to kind of stand up as an organization and move forward some of the urban community forestry work. And doing so in a way that also leverages some existing efforts like the Park People’s, Denver Digs, trees, etc. So, our goal has always been to try to come up with some kind of sustainable and durable community led model for greening and climate resilience. And this is, I think, one more milestone in kind of getting towards that.

Moyer: The larger Globeville-Elyria-Swansea neighborhood needs to plant 10,000 trees in order to reach a 20 percent tree canopy rate. Local and outside organizations are stepping up to provide resources to meet this goal one tree at a time. In the end, the residents of Globeville will be the ones to care for these trees and watch them grow. Denver Parks and Rec is taking this initiative further than just Globeville. Denver Digs is a tree distribution program run by the Park People, a local non profit. They provide-low cost trees with special attention to low-canopy areas. You can attend a training program run by the Park People to become a community forester in your own neighborhood, or reach out to Birdseed Collective and volunteer at the next tree planting event.

For KGNU, I’m Emily Moyer.

Globeville residents gather for a tree planting demonstration with Dawn Diaz of Birdseed Collective and Amanda Morian, Community Connector of The Park People. At Globeville Pocket Park (E.44th Ave and Pearl Street) on April 20, 2024. Photo by Emily Moyer.
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