USC student volunteer and service organization seeks environmental justice for South Los Angeles

Ilana Cohen | Daily Trojan

Trees by Trojans, an environmentally-focused student group, hopes to mitigate the city’s environmental impact by installing green infrastructure and planting more trees.

TxT hosted its first tree planting event on Adams Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue on Nov. 4, and plans to continue planting trees across USC’s campus. Nine members of TxT cleaned, dug and aerated the planting ground to prepare. The pre-selected planting location was previously occupied by a tree that had died, according to TxT President Drew Quinn.  

“[Trees are] a legacy in a way, because these trees will last long after any of the members are here. I do think that one main part of the mission is equity,” said Quinn, a graduate student studying planning and a registered tree tender.

Quinn said Los Angeles homeowners are entitled to receive up to seven trees from the local government, given adequate capacity.

“The city [gives] away lots of trees … but that is a benefit that goes largely to wealthier neighborhoods, and part of it is because lower income neighborhoods are not aware and it is not really advertised to them for them to take advantage of,” he said.

The group planted a fern pine tree, a drought tolerant type of tree. At the end of the 45-minute long tree planting event, the group named the tree Fernando.

Vice President Lauren Deaderick, a graduate student studying public policy and planning, said the first tree planting event was a both an educational and social experience that exposed her to the various functions that trees have in urbanized landscapes.

“What was kind of nice was that there had been an old tree there, and some of the old roots we were able to turn into natural mulch,” Deaderick said. “So, we were able to plant [the tree] on top, which is good to prevent fungus in the future.”

Trees also have a lasting positive effect on the environment throughout their life cycles, according to Deaderick. In addition to the practical needs of beautifying living spaces and proving fresh oxygen, decomposing trees can help new trees grow on the same soil.

“A lot of trees have been cut down due to development of our city,” Deaderick said. “So [we’re] replanting trees, bringing back that growth and the beauty within the community, and also just the practical need of shade that a tree brings, particularly in our very asphalt community in USC and South L.A.”

Patrick Lewis, TxT  outreach and marketing coordinator of TxT, said that planting trees allows students to create tangible environmental change.

“[Trees] provide shade, they help absorb [carbon dioxide] and [admitting] oxygen so it is good for us to breath, reducing heat island effect,” said Lewis, a graduate student studying planning.

There is a lack of transparency and information regarding the ownership of trees between residences, according to Lewis. TxT wants to facilitate the planting and maintenance process for local residences to increase the number of trees in urban residential spaces, he said.

TxT hopes to recruit members to help spread its mission of environmental justice in the USC community.

“We want people to help us to devise a plan to reach out to the community,” Quinn said. “If you are interested in trees, if you are interested in urbanism, we are a group that will accept  you. We want everyone’s opinion to go into the pool and help affect [our mission].”