BOLD tree plan taking root

Ward 30 in the news!  This story was originally published on InsideToronto and is written by Joanna Lavoie

A grassroots initiative designed to strengthen the local tree canopy has done much more than give Ward 30 residents information about how to get a free tree planted in their front yard.

The Leslieville/Riverdale Tree Project, a partnership between local tree advocacy group Beautification of Leslieville District (BOLD) and Neighbourhood Action on Air Quality (NAAQ), an outdoor air quality initiative funded by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and run through the South Riverdale Community Health Center (SRCHC), has resulted in neighbours branching out to one another.

"It has brought people together. Neighbours are talking and checking in with each other," said two-year Leslieville resident Ian Huxley, one of several Hastings Avenue residents who have recently registered with the City of Toronto to receive a free front yard tree.

"Anything that helps the neighbourhood and the environment, I'm all for it. It's a great program and a good way to give back."

Huxley, who expects to receive a red maple by the spring, pointed out just a few of the positive outcomes of planting more trees in his downtown east community ranging from an increase in property values to neighbourhood beautification and improving local air quality.

Daniel Larocque, a BOLD member who also lives on Hastings Ave., is one of more than 30 volunteer canvassers for the neighbour-to-neighbour campaign, which aims to improve the local tree canopy and in turn enhance local air quality.

Larocque said when he first moved to the area seven years ago he immediately noticed the aging tree canopy in his new community and wanted to get involved in its rejuvenation.

"There are a lot of silver maples in the area but their lifespan is about a 100 years so it's a growing concern," he explained, adding a lot of trees in Leslieville were planted around 1914 when the area was subdivided into building lots.

"I started talking with my neighbours and that's how BOLD came about. It's really a bunch of neighbours who care about the local tree canopy."

Larocque decided to sign up as a volunteer canvasser for the Leslieville/Riverdale Tree Project because he wanted to help his neighbours make informed decisions about choosing a tree for the front yard of their homes.

He credits the city's urban forestry department for its support when residents had more complex questions.

"The overall result is that (the project) got people talking about community issues like pollution and backyard trees. It's all about the quality of life in the neighbourhood," Larocque said, adding the biggest myth he heard from people when canvassing is that tree roots destroy pipes.

"We worked directly with urban forestry to support the success of this initiative in this neighbourhood," said Peg Lahn, a health promoter at the SRCHC and the project's coordinator.

"This fall all of that came to fruition, so to speak."

Like all involved, Lahn said the Leslieville/Riverdale Tree Project helped increase "neighbourliness".

"This is a great community engagement project," she said, adding those who received front yard trees also got a little lawn sign that read "The Leslieville/Riverdale Tree Project at work here."

"The volunteers were meeting and working together in ways they never would have done previously. It introduced people to their neighbours."

Councillor Paula Fletcher shared her elation at the new crop of tree advocates in Toronto-Danforth.

"I think it's great that so many people are open to having the tree canopy replanted in Leslieville," she said, adding a lot of hard work went into bringing all the partners together.

"On all points it's been a great project. I've been very proud to support this from the beginning. Kudos to everybody for making this work."

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