By Mike Beacom
As an investor who renovates homes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Evelyn Ware-Jackson looks at blighted areas a little differently than most people. Where others see despair, Evelyn sees opportunity. She also knows that restoring one home alone is not enough.
Many times, the whole neighborhood needs redevelopment. Nowhere has she been more successful than in Melrose East, a once thriving neighborhood that has suffered years of disinvestment, neglect, crime, and disillusionment. There were “just lots of multi-family and warehouse spaces,” describes Evelyn. “None of the sidewalks were shaded and everywhere was just drab concrete.”
This changed when Evelyn accepted an offer from Baton Rouge Green to plant more than 200 trees through a Forest Service grant. The funding enabled Evelyn and the neighborhood’s residents to plant and maintain 218 mature trees, host four Tree Trooper training workshops, and engage 247 volunteers, who together contributed 835 hours of service.
Since the project’s completion, Evelyn has been thanked time and again for her part in bringing trees to Melrose East. The trees not only provide shade and beauty, which has contributed to rising property values, the planting project served as a catalyst for other neighborhood improvements. The experience has also affected Evelyn. “Sometimes when you get something deep down inside you, it’s hard to get it out unless you see it happen,” she says. “The vision of the neighborhood makes me very happy.”
The Alliance for Community Trees identified several “lessons learned” from the project that may be helpful to other urban communities considering a tree planting project. They suggest:
1. Educating business owners, residents, and youth about the benefits of native trees. By empowering and motivating the local stakeholders, the value of trees is better understood, trees are better cared for, and revitalization of the neighborhood continues.
2. Maintaining the unique native ecological character of the neighborhood through appropriate tree selection and planting.
3. Pre-digging holes with contractors. This makes the volunteer experience more educational and fun rather than labor intensive due to compacted urban soils.
4. Executing hands-on training. Experiential training in best tree care and maintenance practices for Melrose East business owners, residents, and youth was critical to the long-term success of the project.
5. Partnering with your local Home Depot store. For this particular project, five volunteers from a local Home Depot helped complete the initiative.