Andrew Newman joined the Council Board last summer. He is Senior Correspondence Liaison for the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner’s Office.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry?
Andrew Newman: Growing up in Brooklyn, Prospect Park was always my big, open backyard. From a very young age, I volunteered for sapling planting efforts and learned about wildlife habitats from local park rangers. I have family from Palmyra, New York (outside Rochester) whose property was covered with walnut, oak, and conifers so that growing up, I became well acquainted with trees. After studying the intersection of religious traditions and the environment as well as the deep ecology movement, I decided I was interested in pursuing a career that would marry public service, public engagement, and nature.
What was your educational trajectory leading to arboriculture and urban forestry?
AN: With degrees in Religion and Classics and Clinical Psychology, mine was a circuitous route to urban forestry! Most of my educational experience has been on the job and in classes provided by NYC Parks, Trees New York, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and other local organizations. Learning about forest ecosystems from experts in the field has been especially helpful.
What has been your career trajectory? What were some peak experiences thus far?
AN: Soon after graduating from the University of Rochester and working various odd jobs, I sought out careers in local government and non-profits with an eye toward environmental issues. After working in maintenance and operations at Prospect Park, I spent several years working on the MillionTreesNYC initiative and then transitioned to more comprehensive forestry communication and policy work. Some of my best experiences have involved working with volunteers to build and care for new forests and street trees, whether managing the planting of 20,000 trees in one day in Rockaway Community Park or organizing 1,500 incoming college freshmen to steward young trees in East New York.
Through the Urban Ecology Collaborative I’ve had the pleasure of visiting nearby cities and learning about their unique approaches to forestry. It’s been amazing to see how similar the challenges are between communities and to see how each uses local culture to engage folks— from “Mulch Madness” celebrations in Pittsburgh to tree care bar brawls in Philadelphia to bicycle watering wagons in Washington, DC.
Can you tell us some about your current position?
AN: My current position as Senior Correspondence Liaison affords me opportunity to go beyond street and park forestry work and get a comprehensive sense of how local government maintains and builds parks and playgrounds. It’s inspiring to see how leveraging funds toward capital improvement of neighborhood parks, including landscaping and tree planting, reinvigorates local communities and breathes new life into public spaces. People are always interested in knowing what goes on in these shared commons and increasing public engagement is challenging but rewarding. Having spent many years as an evangelist for the benefits of street trees, it can be challenging to extoll the virtues of increasing tree canopy among folks who are absolutely livid about branches coming into contact with their homes or overshadowing their gardens. Those times I’ve been able to shepherd a tree hater into a tree lover are some of the best experiences!
In looking at the field of UCF overall, what are trends or patterns you see that you think are promising and/or particularly exciting?
AN: More than ever before, we are seeing a blossoming of public engagement in urban forestry work and the public’s realization of how the urban forest is an invaluable asset whose dividends extend not only to environmental but economic and social benefits. Tree planting and care is becoming recognized as a matter of social justice and platforms like i-Tree as well as analysis of local inventories is giving people the tools to advocate for arboreal causes in underserved areas.
Neighborhoods are taking more ownership of the trees and green spaces in their communities and learning about funding and educational opportunities. I find the enthusiasm of community members in planting and caring for trees very exciting and am so glad that more and more people are being aided with new technology to connect with urban forests! A great example of this citizen-driven engagement is the 2015-2016 NYC Street Tree Census (TreesCount!2015), which was a largely volunteer-driven effort to inventory trees throughout New York City using an innovative smartphone-based platform. The result is the NYC Street Tree Map, which can be queried for everything from tree size to species, location, and condition. You can calculate the benefits the trees in your neighborhood are providing within seconds!
What are your interests in your free time?
AN: In my free time I enjoy playing guitar and banjo and attempting to create music on my synthesizer. I hang out with my cat, Harley (found in Prospect Park) and help her devour plants in my yard. I love a good hike with friends and discovering new brew pubs throughout New York State. I’m a big fan of comics and graphic novels and would love to see urban forestry characterized by more super heroes and heroines. And, of course, caring for the little yellowwood tree [Cladrastis kentukea] in front of my house!
What’s something people might be surprised to know?
AN: I was in a punk rock band in high school called “Pedestrian.” We played the school talent show and a few gigs in Manhattan and Queens and did a mean cover of “In a Gadda Da Vida.” I also used to have an eyebrow piercing.
Anything else you want to be sure to share?
AN: Lately I’ve taken off my NYC Parks hat, so to speak, to advocate for increased funding for urban forestry at the federal level. With so many priorities it is easy for legislators to overlook the importance of funding which engages over 200 million Americans and benefits the entire country and world. I’m very grateful to the NYS Urban Forestry Council for helping to make the call to action and illustrating the impacts of urban and community investment.
Several years ago I was purchasing new work boots at a shoe store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When the clerk asked what I needed them for, I replied “urban forestry, of course!” When he shot me a puzzled look and asked what I could possibly be talking about in such a dense city, I offered to take him on a tour of old growth forest just a few miles to the north of his shop. I’d like to think I opened up his world to new arboreal possibilities.