Mayoral candidate pitches plan for more Toronto trees

Click to play video: 'Toronto mayoral challenger promises more trees while taking a swipe at Tory’s arboreal record'
Toronto mayoral challenger promises more trees while taking a swipe at Tory’s arboreal record
WATCH: Toronto mayoral challenger promises more trees while taking a swipe at Tory’s arboreal record – Aug 18, 2022

Toronto mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa is asking voters to see the city for its trees and expect more of them going forward.

Penalosa is proposing the city adopt a 3-30-300 plan, an idea first proposed by University of British Columbia forest resources professor Cecil Konijnendijk.

“Everybody in the city should be able to see three trees from their window and to have 30 per cent tree canopy cover in their neighbourhood, and also have a quality green space or a park within 300 metres,” said Penalosa.

The increase in both trees and parkland, he said, would not only improve the health of the city’s tree canopy, but would also lead to increases in mental health while mitigating the effects of urban flooding and climate change. Penalosa said with the majority of the city’s urban forest in more affluent areas, the priority would be increasing tree planting in low-income, racialized neighbourhoods.

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“We have a huge tree inequity in our city,” he said.

Read more: Ottawa reveals $3.16 billion to plant 2 billion trees over the next decade

Sandy Smith, a professor and director of the University of Toronto’s forest programs, said the disparity in Toronto’s green spaces has been known for quite some time. She said Toronto’s experience is fairly typical to other comparable cities, where there is missing greenery is uneven.

“The focus should be on those areas that need to be more greened up, to make it more equitable, because those are usually areas of poorer income and community struggles,” she said.

Penalosa’s pitch to get more trees in the ground isn’t exactly an original idea. Both the Liberals and NDP had plans to grow the province’s arboreal capacity during the spring election. The federal Liberals have also promised to plant two billion trees by 2030, but by the end of last year, had so far only scratched the surface.

Incumbent Mayor John Tory, while running in his first municipal election in 2014, also pledged to plant more trees. At the time, Tory said the city’s current pace of planting 120,000 trees per year wasn’t enough to maintain its tree canopy. Tory committed to planting 3.8 million trees over the next 10 years, or 380,000 per year.

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But a breakdown from the city’s parks, forestry and recreation department shows Tory’s campaign target has fallen way short.

# of Trees Planted94,739106,829113,510120,307120,125124,786123,823125,344

Penalosa told Global News what set his promise apart from Tory’s was that he has the determination to get it done. With a background in designing, building and improving urban parkland, he said he has the political motivation to get trees in the ground, whereas Tory does not.

“In the last eight years, the city has been planting 120,000 trees per year,” said Penalosa “and they have not increased, so he has not increased the tree planting.”

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Tory’s campaign declined an interview request with Global News, but in a statement said, “Mayor Tory is committed to growing Toronto’s tree canopy across the city. Under Mayor Tory’s leadership, we are making progress.”

Smith said cities are by definition inhospitable for nature and is in favour of promises to plant more trees. But she cautioned against being overly critical of meeting targets, as long as there is incremental change after identifying that an issue exists with a lack of tree canopy. A major roadblock, she said, is the lack of space to actually plant more trees and the need to get the public on the side of policy initiatives.

“You can only put so many trees on the streets, you can only put so many trees on public parks until they’ve reached their capacity,” said Smith. “Over half the lands that are plantable in the city are actually on private land.”

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