New York City has long recognized the necessity of a building an urban canopy, beginning with an 1870s movement led by a prominent physician named Stephan Smith, who saw planting trees as a way to improve public health, to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ambitious 2007 plan to plant one million trees across the city, which was accomplished in 2015.
As a result, in recent years, the city has been described as undergoing a full-on tree bloom.
In a rapidly warming planet, trees are more important than ever, as they cool hot summer streets and absorb carbon dioxide. Last month, a Swiss scientist proposed planting one trillion trees as the most cost-effective way to combat carbon pollution, an idea that was roundly greeted with support.
But the urban landscape is generally an inhospitable environment for trees.
"In some ways it's easy to plant, but harder to keep them alive," said Adrian Benepe, the former city parks commissioner under Bloomberg.
Cost is also a factor, he said, estimating that it may cost the city as much as $3,000 to plant a single tree, which is primarily handled by contractors and can sometimes require a complicated digging process that avoids underground infrastructure.
So after roughly a century and a half, where exactly does New York City stand?
Altogether there are 5.2 million trees in New York City. Of that number, 694,249 are street trees, according to the City Parks Department.
To further drill down on the data, the real estate data and listings company Localize.city recently examined the neighborhoods (with the exception of those in Staten Island) that contained the most and fewest street trees per square mile. The study only considered trees planted on the sidewalk and maintained by the city.
Brooklyn's Cobble Hill and Floral Park in Queens topped the list, while two redeveloping industrial areas—Willets Point in Queens and the Navy Yard in Brooklyn—ranked last. Not a single Bronx neighborhoods made the top 10. The top neighborhood in that borough for street trees was Temont, which ranked 20th overall.
Neighborhoods with the most trees per square mile:
Cobble Hill, Brooklyn 5783 trees per sq mile
Floral Park, Queens 5703 trees per sq mile
Park Slope, Brooklyn 5197 trees per sq mile
West Village, Manhattan 5102 trees per sq mile
Upper East Side, Manhattan 5056 trees per sq mile
Neighborhoods with the fewest trees per square mile:
Willets Point, Queens 231 trees per sq mile
Navy Yard, Brooklyn 241 trees per sq mile
Garment District, Manhattan 327 trees per sq mile
Little Italy, Manhattan 875 trees per sq mile
East Williamsburg, Brooklyn 879 trees per sq mile
Benepe said many industrial sections of the city have fewer trees for a simple reason: the sidewalks are hollow. He cited Soho, Noho and Tribeca as examples. In some cases, developers will fill in the sidewalks with soil to facilitate tree plantings.
Under the city's tree planting program, any property owner can request the city plant a tree on their street. Under Benepe, the city removed a rule that required the permission of the adjacent homeowner. There are indeed cases when some individuals do not want a tree in front of their property.
Those wishing to have a tree planted should be prepared to wait several years, according to Benepe. The other option is for residents to take things into their hands and plant the trees themselves. For that, they will need to apply for a city permit.