Trees Please Hamilton

Green Solutions to Air Pollution

City of Hamilton’s Street Tree Program and our canvassing experience

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Over the course of two weeks, we had our summer interns, Sean Angel and Katie Hayashi help spread the word of the City’s Street Tree Program.  The City provides free tree(s) on the city-owned portion of homeowners front yards.  This post was written by Katie who detailed their experiences and findings.  

Sean and Katie

Our summer interns, Sean and Katie out canvassing

The Hamilton  Street Tree Program is a program fully funded by the City of Hamilton and allows for local residents to receive free tree(s) for their residential properties.  Remarkably, the addition of trees to residential properties can improve the urban environment and health of its citizens by improving air quality, reducing the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect, reducing smog, increasing storm water control as well as through noise abatement.  Ultimately, our goal was to inform Hamilton residents of this program and encourage them to sign up for the program through door-to-door canvassing.

Although the benefits of trees are well established, we committed to this canvassing with a level of uncertainty over the willingness of the public to get on board with the addition of urban trees on residential properties   This is where the canvassing story begins…but, spoiler alert, of the approximately 830 houses that we visited over the course of 2 weeks, only 5 homeowners opted to sign up for a free tree on the spot.  A success rate of 0.602%.  So was this a total failure?  Would you believe me if I said no?  Let me explain.

The first neighbourhood, of interest was in McQuesten West and is delineated by the red rectangle boundary below.  As shown in the images, Queenston Rd, Parkdale Ave N, Roxborough Ave, and Reid St make up the boundaries of our target neighbourhood.  This boundary contains about 450 houses, and was specifically targeted as a result of concerning air quality readings and poor tree cover recorded in previous trips to the area.

Image 1

The second neighbourhood was within Crownpoint East, in between Barton and Cannon, with Frederick and Kenilworth comprising the East-West boundaries.  This neighbourhood included about 380 houses.

Image 2

First, it is important to establish the criteria, which was used to assess whether a property would qualify for a free tree.  Specifically, as per the site requirements outlined by the city of Hamilton, we did not knock on doors that already had a tree on their lawn and skipped over properties that had very small lawns or lacked a lawn entirely.  Generally, the City of Hamilton requires a minimum of 1 metre and 1.5 metre clearance from the sidewalk and driveway, respectively.  Alternatively, the city will not plant trees in locations where the grass area width is less than 1.75 metres.

With this criteria in mind, the first day of canvassing kicked off at around 5:00PM on a weekday.  Over the next couple of weeks we canvassed 3 more times at this time throughout the week, and twice starting at 9:30AM.  This scheduling understandably conflicted with the working schedules of a number of homeowners throughout the target neighbourhood, and ultimately led to the high proportion of homes where we received no response.

Generally speaking, of the homes where we received a response, homeowners were quite polite, especially considering that our presence was likely an intrusion on their daily routines and family time.  Interestingly however, we found that homeowners were generally not interested in inquiring about the program on the spot.  In fact, in preparation for this canvassing, we anticipated that homeowners would be curious about what we were offering, and even skeptical about the legitimacy of the free program.  This turned out to not be the case, as most interactions were exceptionally brief.

This could be explained by a heightened skepticism towards speaking with door-to-door solicitors, or perhaps as a result of negative pre-conceived ideas about trees on residential properties.

Unfortunately, through our interactions with homeowners, the latter is at least partially responsible for the lack of interest.  For example, in the rare scenario where a homeowner justified their hesitancy to sign up for the program, they most often expressed concern over the way trees that have interfered with water and sewer pipes in the past.  One homeowner in particular stated that several trees on her street had been cut down due to root interference with pipes, and the substantial number of stumps we observed in the front lawns of these neighborhoods seemed to be evidence of this concern.

Luckily, Hamilton’s Street Tree Program offers over 40 different species of both native and non-native trees, many of which will not interfere with pre-existing underground piping!

Let’s now turn to the results of our canvassing.  As was stated previously, 5 out of approximately 830 houses signed up on the spot.  So does this mean that we were rejected 825 times?  Thankfully, no.  Let me use a small sample from our McQuesten neighbourhood to explain.

This particular sample contains about 250 houses and includes properties on Parkdale, Glassco, Queenston, Dunsmere, Beland and Reid.  After canvassing these streets, we acquired the following data:

  • 120 homes already had trees on their lawns
  • 26 homes had very small lawns or lacked a lawn entirely
  • 70 homeowners did not answer their doors
  • 28 homeowners said they were not interested
  • 4 homeowners said they were interested (but did not sign up on the spot)

This data provides some promising results.  First, nearly 50% (48%), already had trees, many of which were quite well established.  Second, the interest rate is much less discouraging when you assess only the homeowners who answered the doors.  In fact of the homeowners that we spoke to in this particular sample, 12.5% showed interest.   Although far from the majority, this is a much more encouraging statistic than the 0.602% success rate that we discussed earlier.

It is important to note that this figure above is only a reflection of a small sample of the houses that were visited over the course of this process.  Regardless, there is reason to be optimistic.  The substantial proportion of properties with both established and newly planted trees, illustrates the commitment of both past and current residents to ‘green’ these two Hamilton neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, although program brochures were dropped off at all the houses where no one answered the door, it is impossible to know what these homeowners ultimately did with that information.  Only time will tell.

Finally, although the benefits of urban trees are well established there still appears to still be a hesitancy to opt into Hamilton’s Free Street Tree Program.  By opting to sign up for the program you are taking positive action to assist with the greening of the urban landscape while fighting the effects of climate change and building happier and healthier communities.  If you are still unsure about signing up or you remain skeptical about the process of signing up, then let me leave you with this.  One of the five households that ultimately signed up on the spot was a mother of 6 boys!  She answered the door carrying her infant son, with a toddler at her feet.  After happily agreeing to sign up for the program, she had successfully signed up to receive a tree in less than 2 minutes.  The survey is that quick and easy!

We would like to thank everyone who signed up for a free tree and to those who are considering, click this link for more information.

If you own a property in Hamilton and are interested in signing up to receive a tree, planted and paid for by the city, please visit www.treeshamilton.ca to fill out a formal request form.  Alternatively, you can call 905-546-CITY (2489) or email treeplanting@hamilton.ca.

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Author: treespleasehamilton

A project of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club and Environment Hamilton. Funding by Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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