March 2021 Student Spotlight
Nave Strauss, Executive MPA ’21
We speak to Director of Street Tree Planting at the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation and Executive MPA candidate, Nave Strauss about his article in The Atlantic, his New York City tree planting initiative, and more.
What sparked your interest in urban forestry?
I always loved the outdoors and the city. Urban forestry is a natural combination of the two. Coincidentally, I did not think I would be in urban forestry; I thought I would go into environmental economics, but NYC called my name. The opportunity to serve this amazing city in a unique capacity as this is truly humbling. Not only do I get to see the results of my work, in some cases 12 years later now, but I know that the trees I’ve planted, cared for, and preserved benefit a diverse population, including those most in-need. This work has taken me to corners of the city that people who grew up here never saw, and that is truly special.
How does one lead in government during an all-encompassing pandemic such as this?
Leadership should always be dynamic and flexible. Leaders should emphasize safety and security, and champion individual well-being. Those traits are even more important right now. When your office is your dinner table or your couch, and your coworker is your cat — or no one at all — you can quickly feel removed and uninspired. The challenges we face in our field didn’t magically vanish either, so being empathetic, encouraging, and giving clear direction in moments when nothing is clear is what leaders should strive to do. If you can do that, and push yourself and your team to innovate and think about the bigger picture and the mission of your program or organization, you have succeeded. But remember that these are not normal times, and that not accomplishing a goal does not equal failure, it’s just a bump in the road. While internal communication is paramount, external communication — to the public, to your board, or any other stakeholder — is just as important. Use clear language and be honest about the challenges you face. After all, there is hardly a public sector or non-profit program that isn’t feeling the pressure right now.
Can you tell us about your tree planting initiative?
New York City has over 692,000 street trees and over 156,000 trees in landscaped areas of parks (as opposed to forests, of which we have over 10,000 acres). I oversee the planting of street and park trees. We bridge the gap between natural and built. We’re part construction, part science, part forestry. It makes a big difference in people’s lives: in fact, one of our main foci is on trees for public health. They clean the air, cool sidewalks and buildings, and soften the built environment. If you live in NYC and you’re interested in a new tree planting outside your home, business, or anywhere else (really!) you can request one through 311. It’s that simple.
What inspired you to write your article for The Atlantic about future-proofing city trees?
The Atlantic approached me–and others from NYC Parks and other cities–to discuss our perspective. There’s no perfect science, but I wanted to illuminate the fact that NYC Parks is forward-thinking. Trees are only part of the solution to climate change, but it behooves us to think about how much warmer NYC is getting, and how susceptible we are to more powerful storms and floods. We’re actually trying to do something beyond saying that we plant trees; we’re trying to plant the right ones for our warmer/colder/wetter/drier future.