An urban tree-planting program is under way in Pittsburgh that is aiming to plant 20,000 trees along streets and in neighborhoods and parks by 2012. Started by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and implemented by local agencies and volunteers, TreeVitalize has renewed public interest in the role trees play in air quality, property values and quality of life.

A 2005 tree inventory in the Pittsburgh area revealed an average of one street tree for every 11 residents. In the neighborhood with the fewest trees, there is one tree for every 21 residents. To improve those ratios, the DCNR pledged $1 million over four years to plant trees in the Pittsburgh area. Local matching funds and private donations have supplemented the state grant, bringing total funding for the program to $6.175 million over five years. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy manages the project, which is modeled on a Philadelphia initiative.

The Allegheny County Parks and Public Works departments manage plantings on county property, and the city hires contractors to plant trees in business districts. Local nurseries and nearby farms supply a variety of hardy trees, such as crabapple, Kentucky coffee trees and ginkgo. Residential groups apply to receive neighborhood trees, with low-income neighborhoods given priority because they often have the sparsest tree cover.

TreeVitalize supplies the materials — seedlings, saplings or larger trees, mulch, soil and tools — and volunteer training and supervision on neighborhood planting days, which occur in the spring and fall. City public works crews cut tree pits to allow sufficient room for the trees to take root and grow, and they cut the pavement where trees are needed close to sidewalks. Last year, 700 volunteers planted 1,250 trees, and 2,200 trees were planted last month. Volunteers tend to the trees for the first two years, after which the city and county will take over care and maintenance.