The city of Binghamton’s Shade Tree Commission, though founded decades ago, blossomed seven years ago with the election of Mayor Matt Ryan. Since then, the commission has been responsible for planting between 600 and 700 trees in the city of Binghamton.
The commission, which is funded by the city and the remains of a $20,000 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation grant, is made up of seven voluntary, appointed members, including Richard Andrus, an associate professor of environmental studies at Binghamton University. A city fund set up in 2007 allows the Parks and Recreation Department to accept private donations to boost tree plantings.
The commission’s official responsibilities are to assess the needs of the city and its tree-planting programs.
According to Andrus, the group is also responsible for recommending which trees to plant to the city, reviewing plans submitted by developers to the planning department and making recommendations to residents.
“Sometimes we comment on the kinds of trees, sometimes we comment on the amount of trees, where they are, what size they are, and that’s the most significant thing that we do at this point,” Andrus said. “When the planning department gets a plan, they pass it to the Shade Tree Commission to review for the trees, and they actually listen to what we say. And that wasn’t true until relatively recently.”
The commission also actively encourages residents to partake in its two programs: The Street Tree Planting Program, in which residents may have a tree planted at no cost to them in the utility strip in front of their property; and the Yard Tree Coupon Program, which provides eligible property owners with a $35 coupon for the purchase of a tree that will be planted on their property.
According to Andrus, the commission plants about 100 trees a year, with each tree costing around $70-100.
Though it works with all neighborhoods in Binghamton, the commission especially seeks out the lower-income residents who have fewer trees on their property.
“We actually go out and distribute fliers and to some extent try to talk to people in these neighborhoods to encourage them to request trees for their neighborhood,” Andrus said. “And we’ve had some success, the evidence is exceedingly clear.”
Anthony DeGelorm, a resident of Downtown Binghamton and a senior majoring in biochemistry, said he has witnessed the benefits of shade trees firsthand.
“Many of the neighborhoods around where I live are very dumpy,” DeGelorm said. “The foliage is one of the few things that bring color [and] life to the neighborhoods.”
Andrus noted that the number of trees or the amount of tree cover in affluent neighborhoods, such as the west side of Binghamton, is always much higher than that of a lower-income neighborhood. He said it may be attributed to the fact that there is not as much space to plant trees.
There are spaces in Binghamton that can fit trees, like utility strips and residents’ properties, but the Shade Tree Commission does not force residents to plant trees.
“The city doesn’t really plant trees without a buy-in from the property owner,” Andrus said. “It’s not like we go look up and down the street and say, ‘There should be a tree there, let’s plant one.’ The property owner has to be involved. There is property in the city that isn’t private property that we sometimes plant on, like parks and stuff like that, but mostly it’s on private property.”
When property owners request a tree in front of their house or on their utility strip, the commission gives them a list with around a dozen types of tree, from which they may request one. Andrus said this does not necessarily mean that they will get that tree, but the commission tries to fulfill requests.
Andrus chooses the trees that go on the list. He picks what will work for a neighborhood.
“That planting list is based upon what trees are known to do satisfactorily in an urban environment, which isn’t the easiest place to grow, and that’s based upon experience,” Andrus said. “It’s also based upon how many are already in the city. We have some trees that we won’t plant because there’s too many of them. The idea is not to get too many of one kind of tree, because then if you get a disease, you lose a huge chunk of your urban trees.”
Andrus said the Shade Tree Commission is unique to Broome County.
“Binghamton is the only community in the county that even has a Shade Tree program,” he said. “Nobody else even plants trees, to the best of my knowledge. If there are any trees, it’s probably because people planted them themselves in front of their house.”