Free Tree Press

Hamilton Spectator, June 23, 2013 Page A3

A group of McMaster students who decided to steer the city's Street Tree Program toward the Keith neighbourhood couldn't be happier with the results.

So far, 35 Keith residents have ordered 43 trees to be planted on their properties by city staff in September, free of charge.

"A lot of people were very receptive and we got a lot of positive feedback," said Jonathan Valencia, air quality co-ordinator for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at McMaster.

OPIRG decided to use the city's existing program, which offers free trees to homeowners, to start a pilot project to focus on an area they felt could really benefit from the planting of more trees.

After reading a study by Dr. Denis Corr for Clean Air Hamilton, Randy Kay noticed Keith showing really high readings for air pollutants.

"Keith was perfect for a trial because in a sense it's a small geographic area — there's not a lot of houses, and the Social Planning and Research Council did a study on the Code Red neighbourhoods and 70 per cent of people own their homes here," said Kay, who is OPIRG's co-ordinator of volunteers.

This made a door to door canvas an effective way to talk to residents. Valencia led a team of volunteers and covered every street in the neighbourhood, which is centred around Wentworth Street North between the CN rail tracks and the harbour, with the hope of getting the residents keen on trees while letting them know about the program and its benefits.

About 300 doors later, homeowners who hadn't known about the program are now taking advantage of the opportunity.

Keith resident Cathy Larocque thinks it's an excellent program.

"I got one for health reasons and to filter out the air, and they maintain it for me," she said.

Michelle Chesbro said residents in the area have worked hard over the past few years on cleaning it up. She plans to spread the word about the program.

"Trees are great, not only are they pretty, they help to clean the air," said Chesbro.

Last year, the city planted 5,800 trees under the program. How it works is residents contact the city to request a tree, and staff visit the proposed site to determine if there is enough space.

"It's a little investment for a long-term payoff," Kay said.