City Reveals Update On City-Wide Our Roots Chicago Initiative

Photo of Chicago City Skyline courtesy of City of Chicago

Updates have been revealed for the city-wide Our Roots Chicago initiative with an emphasis on the south and west sides. Announced earlier this year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot put forward a plan to plant over 75,000 trees over the next five years across all neighborhoods but with an emphasis on those that have historically seen disinvestment in their green spaces. This is being executed in collaboration with locally-based organization Openlands and Seven-D Construction Co who is executing on planting.

Volunteers across Chicago via Openlands

Part of the 2022 Climate Action Plan, the $46 million initiative is designed to highlight the city’s commitment to environmental justice and equity with planting seasons focusing on spring and fall of each year. Chicago as a whole has around 500,000 trees across parks, roadways, and more, but in recent years has seen a disproportionate number of removals due to poor communication with 311, disease, pest, and more according to the Chicago Tribune. This has led to stretches of roads in predominantly the west and south sides where no trees can be found, leading to various ecological issues and a lower quality of life.

Prairie plantings on Northerly Island via Openlands

These issues include fighting the heat-island effect, a proper tree canopy can reduce ground temperatures by nearly 20 degrees on hot days as well as be a tool in fighting flooding and assist in local’s mental health. However the majority of the program is on the backs of volunteers called TreeKeepers, whose role is to go door to door and identify areas that could use a tree, bust myths about roots damaging homes, and assist residents in requesting a sapling. This has led to roughly 14,000 trees being planted this year with the city on track to complete the 15,000 goal by year’s end.

Volunteers across Chicago via Openlands

The program isn’t without its issues. According to Openlands, who also helps train the volunteers, there is a lack of proper communication on how to take care of the saplings with the first three years being crucial for their success. This extends to Seven-D not having a defined contract on watering schedules, the same species being planted all in one place, and placing most of the responsibility on homeowners to protect the sapling from vandalism and theft. However the city will continue to execute on the plan and is currently negotiating a new contract on the planting process, its true success will be measured three years after the final planting.

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2 Comments on "City Reveals Update On City-Wide Our Roots Chicago Initiative"

  1. Richard M.Daley | November 14, 2022 at 1:32 pm | Reply

    Trees are good chicago needs trees LETS do it

  2. National Geographic did a great story/study last year on the relative paucity of urban tree canopy in redlined areas. That story focused closely on LA (where surface temps are sometimes often remarkably higher in treeless zones) but I love that Chicago is trying to lead in this area.
    If there’s anything less optimistic to say here it’s that the department of forestry is often severely undermanned/underfunded in Chicago with very long lead times for tree trimming requests. Hopefully that will be rectified in future budgets as with more trees we’ll need more tree care/maintenance.

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