The position of borough president is often described as a ceremonial position, without much political power.
But the city’s five borough presidents hope that by joining forces, they can bring about change — in this case, creating a greener, more resilient city by planting one million new trees across the five boroughs.
On Monday, the group launched the “Million More Trees” initiative with a press conference at City Hall Park. “We are here today to call for one million more trees for New York City,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
If the idea of planting a million trees sounds familiar, that’s because the city has already done it, an initiative started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and completed during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term, creating an alliance rare between the two.
Borough presidents are also taking an unusual step by teaming up for a common cause. The group includes four Democrats – Levine, Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx, Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn and Donovan Richards of Queens – plus one Republican, Vito Fossella of Staten Island.
Proponents note that the trees not only provide shade, they also absorb carbon and rainwater and have a cooling effect during the hot summer months. And there’s a social justice component to the effort, they say, since negative environmental impacts often fall disproportionately on communities of color.
“Trees are more than beautiful to look at,” Levine said. “These are essential weapons in our fight against climate change.”
Levine says the effort would cost around $500 million. About half of the new trees would be planted in city parks and other natural spaces, he said, and up to a quarter along streets.
“We can also look at other entities like our public schools, our community centers, our senior centers,” Gibson said. “We can work with our private sector partners.
The group is also pushing Mayor Eric Adams to keep his campaign promise to spend 1% of the city’s budget on parks. In a statement on Monday, a City Hall spokesperson said: “The Mayor is committed to the Percentage Pledge for Parks and his team is exploring innovative ways to invest in quality green spaces for all New Yorker.”
The most unlikely member of the coalition is Fossella, a conservative Republican who won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in last year’s Republican primary.
“I think it’s refreshing,” he said. “At a time when politics is so polarized, people can’t stand each other, people fight for everything, I think there’s a good chunk of people who just want people in public service to work together .”
Reynoso added, “Trees don’t care about political parties. They just want to be planted.