Scenic Citizen: Barry Ward, Trees for Houston

“To make Houston a more livable, walkable city, a place where people want to move to or to visit, it’s just going to have to be greener and more beautiful and healthier. You can’t achieve that without trees,” Barry Ward, Executive Director of Trees for Houston, says. He is a tree expert, with a background in cultural resource preservation, who joined the non-profit organization as its executive director in 2008 to expand the green footprint across Houston. Working with many partners, Trees for Houston operates tree farms that enable the organization to install 30,000 trees annually across greater Houston. “Simply put, we’re really trying to provide a tree or trees to anyone who needs them at free or at low cost,” Barry says, “Our goal is that anyone that walks in off the street, we would love to be able to give that person a tree.”

Partnering with a wide array of nonprofit organizations, Trees for Houston works to relieve the financial burden of tree investment. “If there is a library or a school, or a soup kitchen or children’s home and they have to put in trees when they build their facilities, we don’t want them to bear that cost,” Ward says, “We want to take that cost because that’s our only mission.” This kind of cost savings can allow organizations to direct more of its resources directly to programming. “It doesn’t really matter to us what the scale is,” Ward says, “If it involves a tree and it’s for public benefit than we want to be involved.”

Beyond their beauty, trees also have health benefits. The leaves and bark act as natural filters, absorbing harmful pollutants and gases, producing cleaner air. Trees can also lower the temperature on a neighborhood street two to three degrees cooler than in a treeless neighborhood. Ward encourages developers to incorporate trees into all project designs. “Trees really need to be designed in because trees are large, and will negatively impact the built infrastructure if you don’t design them in. You don’t want to just throw them in after the fact.” Ward believes that people migrate to well-designed cities with thoughtful aspects, places where people can take a walk, ride a bike or recreate. “Perhaps the easiest way to achieve that is more green space,” he says.

Ward has seen greater interest from the public for more green projects, and Trees for Houston has been a central figure in many. The organization has donated thousands of trees for the transformative Bayou Greenways 2020 project, which has the ambitious vision to turn Houston into a green oasis by linking our waterways and linear parks with 150 miles of connected hike-and-bike trail to ensure that no Houstonian is ever more than five to 10-minutes from a trail or park system. In 2017, Trees for Houston contributed 410 trees to Scenic Houston’s Broadway/Hobby Corridor Redevelopment Project. Now complete, a fresh, attractive Broadway will provide a new  “Welcome to Houston” for visitors and create an improved sense of place for residents. Looking ahead, Trees for Houston shows no signs of slowing down. In 2019, Trees for Houston aims to contribute trees to 30-40 private and public schools and create an on-site tree farm for the Houston Botanic Garden. “We’re constantly working,” Barry says.

Learn more about Trees for Houston and its initiatives at www.treesforhouston.org.

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