Restoration of the hillside below Mount Washington has saved $175,000 in the cost of topping trees that obscure views. The city saved almost $700,000 a year in labor thanks to 34,000 volunteer hours. And more than 30,000 street trees spare the city $330,000 annually in stormwater management services.
Members of the Pittsburgh Greenspace Alliance cited these figures during City Council's post-agenda session Tuesday to encourage the city to see that spending on green infrastructure and maintenance "is not a burden but an investment," said Brenda Smith, executive director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. "If we want the stormwater benefits, these trees have to become mature."
The alliance touted the benefits of job creation, erosion control and improvement in public health and housing values.
Councilman Corey O'Connor, council's chair for parks and recreation, led the session that Councilman Patrick Dowd and council President Darlene Harris also attended.
Representatives of Tree Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, Friends of the Riverfront, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Allegheny Commons Initiative formed the alliance to knit their work on infrastructure and green asset strategies so the city can enhance their work.
Ms. Smith said tree maintenance "should be a regular function of the city in perpetuity to make the city resilient in the face [of] climate change as well."
Mr. Dowd said he wants to see the city move toward a plan to determine how much stormwater each property owner is responsible for and charge them for it. "Anyone who builds a large, flat warehouse is making us pay to help fill up our treatment plant," he said.
The collaborative raised $110 million for green-space improvements and brought 34,000 volunteers to that effort. They have planted 21,000 new trees through the work of TreeVitalize.
Thomas Baxter, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront, said the collaborative "needs to have a dialogue with the city" over maintenance of green assets.
"Maintenance is now one-third of our mission," he said, to which Mr. Dowd raised his eyebrows.
"We are at 60 percent maintenance at this point," said Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh. "We don't put a tree in the ground without a tree care plan."
Ilyssa Manspeizer, the Mount Washington director of park development and conservation, said Emerald View Park's eventual 20 miles of woodland trails will connect to neighborhood streets and smaller parks with benefits to home values.
Then there's the benefit of employment for crews building the trails. The crews are made up of young men from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who were trained for jobs beyond trail building by the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Kevin McWhite Jr. of Wilkinsburg joined a trail building crew last month and said the opportunity makes him more willing to volunteer.
"You put me on that job and then you ask me to give back," he said, "and I'm like, 'Of course, you gave me this opportunity.' "