UP WITH TREES, DOWN WITH TRASH
Oklahoma has a history of boom and bust periods. Influenced as much by oil as by dust bowls, it's seen its share of great times and hard times. The mid-1970's were hard times.
In 1975, 51st street in Tulsa, Oklahoma was under construction. The work required cutting down numerous trees, which were already disappearing at an alarming rate in the growing urban landscape .
Enter a young man, still in high school, who lived near the construction zone. Looking out and seeing asphalt replacing arbor, he picked up the phone to call Sid Patterson. He asked Sid what seemed like a simple question: how will the city replace the felled trees? Sid, the Tulsa Streets Commissioner at the time, didn't have an answer. There was barely enough money to improve infrastructure. Planting trees was out of the question.
But the young Tulsa resident had planted a thought in Sid's mind, and the idea began to sprout and take root.
Sid began organizing groups of Tulsa Garden Club members, landscape architects, and civic groups and clubs. A little more than a year after that fateful phone call, Up With Trees was born.
More than 40 years and more than 30,000 trees later, on a beautiful late winter morning, we grabbed shovels and rakes, and helped get a few more trees in the ground. We teamed up with several other volunteers and added a new grove along a bike and walking path in northern Tulsa.
The influence of Up With Trees is hard to miss when driving through town. Their groves, urban food forests, and shade canopies dot the landscape, adding splashes of green, cooling cover, and beauty to break up the monotony of concrete and asphalt.
But it's about more than aesthetic value. Trees are vital to our survival.
We need them to breath. Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. That's enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
We need them to help cool our warming cities. Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20–50 percent in energy used for heating (USDA Forest Service).
We need them for life.
With so much help from so many great volunteers, the day of planting was short. Rather than waste the morning, John-Michael and I grabbed some trash bags and picked up litter around the planting site. We wanted to welcome the trees to their new home by making sure it looked nice.
As morning turned to afternoon, the volunteers and staff said their goodbyes. People dusted off their pants, slipped off their gloves, and stood back for a moment in admiration of what was done. In admiration of what was now a movement. A movement started by a single phone call by a kid who cared. Someone who dared to ask a question. Who was genuinely concerned, and not yet tainted by cynicism. We can elicit change by caring, questioning, and taking action.