Penn joins in to re-tree Philly

Anne Papageorge still remembers being given a seedling to take care of as an Earth Day gift back in 1972 when she was in fifth grade.

"We planted it in my yard," said Papageorge, who today serves as vice president of facilities and real-estate services at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's one of the lessons in my early education that sparked my interest in becoming a landscape architect."

Now Papageorge is hoping to pass on that feeling through a new Penn program that is providing free trees to faculty and staff. The effort, which kicks off today, aims to help further the city's ambitious goal of planting 300,000 trees by 2015.

"This is a way to make our landscape more sustainable, to work towards the stormwater goals of the city, to green our campus," said Papageorge, co-chair of Mayor Nutter's Sustainability Advisory Board. She said that the $10,000 program will provide 300 trees to Penn faculty and staff who live in the city. The recipients also will get a seminar on how to plant the trees in their back yards.

Programs like this one - relatively inexpensive partnerships with private entities - will help make the city's massive tree goal a reality, said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis.

Still, the city has a long way to go, with roughly 28,000 trees planted since Nutter took office, according to Joan Blaustein, the city's director of urban forestry and ecosystem management. That includes plantings by the city, as well as nonprofit foundations and other groups, but doesn't include plantings this year.

DiBerardinis stressed that the pace was only going to pick up.

"We're about to launch something with Drexel, we have Penn, we're working with Blue Cross-Blue Shield," DiBerardinis. "I think we're going to do really well over the next five years."

The 300,000 goal was laid out in Nutter's GreenWorks environmental plan for the city. Increasing trees will improve air quality, provide shade and other protections, as well as beautify neighborhoods, said DiBerardinis.

Nutter allocated $2.5 million in capital funds for tree-planting in this year's budget and has proposed another $2 million in next year's budget. DiBerardinis - who took some tough questions about the tree goal last year - is up before Council to talk about his budget on Monday.

"Our numbers have been ramping up and we're going to make a good run at it," DiBerardinis said of the goal.

"We want to plant trees at libraries. Hopefully, we'll be planting trees around school yards. We're increasing the methods."

In addition, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society has announced support for the goal. Spokesman Alan Jaffe said that PHS will be planting 1,000 trees around the city during April alone.

"The region lost millions of trees in the past couple of decades due to development," Jaffe said. "We think the mayor's goal is very admirable."

DiBerardinis also stressed that the city has stepped up efforts to take care of trees, as well as get rid of dead or dangerous trees, with plans to remove 1,700 hazardous trees this year.

"I think, legitimately, people raised questions about, 'What are you doing about the tree care?' " he said.