knock on wood

Sonja Dumpelmann, Harvard University Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, speaker at the Urban Tree symposium. Publication date: Jan 2019

Clara Coffey, landscape architect (1894-1982)

Pest resistance, species diversity, nutrient availability, soil compaction, citizen science, risk assessment, and eco-system service, were only some of the topics covered at the Madison Sq. Park Conservancy symposium, “Planting the Future: Urban Trees”.  Thanks to Sonja Dumpelmann, I want to share the accomplishments of one New York City woman, who was instrumental in planting trees in New York City. In 1934, the Parks Dept. put out a call for tree pruners.  Six woman applied, none were hired. Two years later, Clara Coffey became the Chief of Tree Plantings for NYC Parks.  She continued in this role until 1942 when she returned to private practice.  Best known for her design of the Park Ave Malls, Coffey was instrumental in bringing trees to the Hutchinson River Parkway and the Belt Parkway.

The Neighborhood Tree Corps in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 1970s.



Dumpelmann talked about her research into the founding of the Neighborhood Tree Corps.  This organization planted and maintained street trees in the African American neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1970’s.

“While the planting, maintenance, and conservation of trees became a grassroots initiative of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s African American citizens to assert their rights to the city and to its spaces in general, the tree-planting and conservation activities provided the most vulnerable and powerless groups in particular—women and children—with a way to make themselves heard and seen. Tree planting and “plant-ins” became their tool of community building as well as a civil right that could be used against ghettoization. Thus, the events leading up to the magnolia tree’s landmark designation in 1970, the implementation of the Neighborhood Tree Corps in 1971, and finally the foundation of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center in 1973 as a not-for-profit educational institution in the brownstone buildings sheltering the magnolia tree illustrate grassroots initiatives for the planting, care, and protection of trees that stood squarely within the civil rights, environmental, and women’s movements of the time”.  Sonja Dumpelman, Planting Civil Rights, Landscape Architecture Magazine, 2015.I

I am writing this little blog on the day of the midterms… we don’t know the outcomes yet.  The Neighborhood Tree Corps is a small reminder of what people can do.

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