Parks and Recreation is turning your neighbors into surveyors. As part of a project to increase the city's tree canopy, the department of Parks and Recreation is commissioning those who know the neighborhood best to help the agency find tree planting opportunities.

Tree Campaign Manager Erica Smith Fichman has been working with community groups in neighborhoods like Frankford, Kensington and South Philly to identify dead trees and empty tree pits (those boxes on the sidewalks for tree planting), where new trees can be planted. The community groups are using crowdsourcing to gather suggestions. The Fishtown Neighbors Association chose to use a Google Map, for instance, where people could mark the locations of the tree pits and dead trees. The FNA has collected information on 170 tree pits through the Google Map so far.

All this information will be used in the spring 2012 planting season, Smith Fichman says. Another crowdsourcing process will follow for the fall 2012 planting season. If this sounds like something your neighborhood would be interested in, contact Erica Smith Fichman at

We like the idea of the city working with neighbors to get things done and giving neighborhood associations some control over what happens in their community, especially when it comes to trees, which, we've found, can be surprisingly problematic.

We've gotten plenty of calls about dead or dangerous trees, and neighbors often feel like the city is ignoring the issue. They feel this way because the city has a big backlog of trees to uproot, and it's expensive to remove them (removing a large tree can cost several thousand dollars). Depending on how dangerous an arborist deems a tree to be, it can take over a year for the city to get to it.

We thought that maybe this program would expedite the waiting process for tree removal, but that's not the case. 3-1-1 is still the most efficient way to get a tree on the list, says Director of Urban Forestry and Ecosystem Management Joan Blaustein.

On the bright side, the waiting list has gotten shorter, Blaustein says. Parks and Recreation has been able to "wipe out" much of its tree removal backlog due to the $2.5 million the department got in capital funding, Blaustein told us.

Blaustein says this is "the first significant funding for tree planting and removal" that the department has gotten. And it'll keep coming: there's another $2.5 million allocated for FY '12 for the same purpose.

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