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Pittsburgh's South Side is going green -- one tree at a time.

As lively as the neighborhood is, "It's not very green down here," says Kim Collins, owner of Blue Tomato Design. Earlier this year, she says, she and a friend "were talking about the South Side and how bare it is."

So with the help of other local leaders, Collins launched the South Side Tree Project, which on Oct. 24 held its first neighborhood planting. Some 45 volunteers helped plant 21 trees, as well as 320 tulip bulbs, on Wharton Street (most of which were planted in the neighborhood's 1900 block). 

"I'm so excited," says Collins, who hopes to plant 300 to 400 trees on the South Side over the next four years. "The street looks cleaner."

The South Side effort kicked off the fall planting season for TreeVitalize Pittsburgh, a 2008 initiative to plant 20,000 trees throughout the Pittsburgh region by 2012. The project is a joint effort between city and county officials, along with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest. Its goal is to reverse the trend of urban communities losing trees. Since its inception, TreeVitalize has planted roughly 3,300 trees in Allegheny County.  

"There are many areas of Pittsburgh that are under-treed," says TreeVitalize Director Jeffrey Bergman. He adds that the group is planting more than 700 trees in the city this fall. 

In particular, Bergman says, "The South Side has some really great planting opportunities."

But identifying them takes time. With help from Riverset credit union, Collins started the South Side effort in March. In the following months, she worked with South Siders who were interested in having trees planted on their sidewalks. Based on that interest, Collins says, the group helps compile formal applications that are sent to TreeVitalize. 

The city's urban forester, Lisa Ceoffe, then conducts site assessments to determine whether the properties are tree-friendly: For example, Ceoffe must consider the proximity of gas and water lines, as well as sidewalk conditions. She also determines which species of tree would work best. A dozen different species were planted on Wharton Street, for example, including maples and Japanese lilacs.

Collins says that from initial request to planting, the process can take roughly six months.

Thanks to $250,000 a year in state funding, Treevitalize pays for the trees, soil and mulch. City public-works crews dig the 30-square-foot tree pits, and volunteers help plant each tree, which are bought from a Butler County nursery.

Bergman says it's crucial for neighborhoods to organize like the South Side and Lawrenceville, which also has a tree-planting group. "It's fantastic when communities are organized," he says, because it helps focus efforts on specific areas, rather than planting individual trees blocks apart.

Collins encourages South Side residents to submit requests to the Tree Project at its Web site, www.sstreeproject.com. The group will have its second planting in the spring -- but it already has about 150 tree requests, and Collins urges patience. "We would like to get to everybody," she says, although "it might not be for four years."

But by then, she adds, "Imagine the South Side in the spring. It's going to be absolutely amazing."

South Side volunteers planted 21 trees on Wharton Street on Oct. 24. - KIM COLLINS
  • Kim Collins
  • South Side volunteers planted 21 trees on Wharton Street on Oct. 24.

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