Who Sees the Trees? Greenpoint’s Citizen Pruners!

Emerald City. Photo by Lucie Levine
Emerald City. Photo by Lucie Levine

We might live in the concrete jungle, but according to this fantastic interactive tree map made by the New York City Parks department, Greenpoint is blessed with arboreal abundance. Our lovely neighborhood trees benefit from the care of volunteer environmental stewards, known as Citizen Pruners. 

Greenpointer Sarah Balistreri, the fabulous force behind the instagram account @wildgreenpoint, who helped conduct the tree census that informs the map, is a Citizen Pruner. After taking a tree identification course at the Brooklyn Brainery, which sparked a love of urban street trees, Sarah took the Trees New York Citizen Pruner course and became a licensed tree-hugger.

The Citizen Pruner course trains and certifies New Yorkers in “tree care, biology, identification and pruning.” Sarah explains that all of these skills and areas of knowledge are intertwined when it comes to properly caring for New York’s Trees, because knowing about a tree’s species, and the specific challenges that species has with weather or growth, helps inform how you prune it.

Trees New York is the only organization in the city that trains and certifies Citizen Pruners, and only certified Citizen Pruners can legally prune street trees in New York. Trees New York certifies about 200 Citizen Pruners every year, but Greenpoint residents are particularly lucky. Anyone who lives in zip code 11222 is eligible for the Greening Greenpoint Scholarship, and can take the course for just $15, thanks to funding from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund!

India Street. Photo by Lucie Levine
India Street. Photo by Lucie Levine

According to botanists, lots of city dwellers are Tree Blind, unaware of the species of greenery around them. Courses in tree care and identification can help us open our eyes. Sarah agrees that being a Citizen Pruner isn’t just about caring for the environment, it’s about seeing the neighborhood around her differently. She says, “when you’re aware of individual species, it opens your eyes and helps you appreciate the things around you in a new way. You get to have an emotional connection to your environment. For example, I love a London Plane tree in the corner of McCarren Park, and I know the Callery Pear in front of my apartment: I know it’s one of the first trees in the city to blossom, it’s susceptible to storm damage, and the food that it produces is a source of food for birds.”

That eye toward the environment helped inspire her to start @wildgreenpoint. “There are a bunch of studies that talk about how being in green space contributes to wellness, and I thought it was healthy for me to be aware of the nature around me. There’s more in New York City than just people and pigeons.”

Want to go wild and get green? This fall, Trees New York is offering the Citizen Pruner Course at the Bushwick Inlet Park Building (86 Kent Avenue) starting Monday, October 16. Sign up here, and choose Greenpoint Schollarship to enroll for just $15!

About Lucie Levine

Lucie Levine is the founder of Archive on Parade, a local tour and event company that aims to take New York’s fascinating history out of the archives and into the streets. She’s a Native New Yorker, licensed New York City tour guide, and freelance writer with a passion for the city’s social, political and cultural history.

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