Program Report: Katie Rose Levin _ Leaf and Limb

Club member Katie Rose Levin treated us to a very informative program on the benefits—health, financial and otherwise—enjoyed by communities with healthy trees. She also gave insights into which Durham neighborhoods have more tree canopy than others—and why. Katie was introduced by Marcy Lowe.

Katie is Director of Consulting for Leaf and Limb, a Triangle Tree Service company, founded in 1997 by South African born Colin Camu. Katie’s profile on the company website states her “ah ha” tree moment came while standing in an Amazon rainforest during a rain storm. At that moment, her interests in ethnobotany, herbal medicines, wildlife and the environment converged. “Trees are amazing,” said, and “sometimes, I hug them.”

She came to Duke as a grad student, earning two Master’s degrees in Forestry and Environmental Management. The university hired her as its first Natural Resource Manager, a position she held until joining Leaf and Limb four years later. Along the way, she earned the principal professional arborist certifications.

The most important takeaway from Katie’s presentation was the deeply imbedded reasons why there are the “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to tree canopies in various Durham neighborhoods. Some are blessed with plentiful tree canopy while others have little. The story begins in the 1930s. Durham was booming with flourishing tobacco and textile industries and prospering commercial activity in both black and white business districts.

Even in those years, trees were regarded as beneficial. Duke University and the Durham Garden Club encouraged the planting of trees. But neighborhoods such as Trinity Park got plenty of trees planted while Hayti did not. How is this explained? In the midst of Depression, Congress created the Home Owners Loan Association to provide cheaper mortgages for single family homes. Municipal maps were drawn at the time showing desirable areas (labelled A) and “hazardous” areas (labelled D). Trinity Park, an area with “no Negroes” but with white professionals and business leaders received an “A” rating. The prospering Hayti area, Durham’s “Black Wall Street,” received a much lower rating.

A current Google map of Durham shows that the A and B zones (Forest Park, for example) have far more trees and canopy cover than zones C and D (including Hayti). This created what Katie calls “structural racism.”

Fortunately, Durham has a new plan that envisions planting more trees—along with enthusiastic volunteer support—especially in areas previously neglected.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

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