Trees are Tweeting in Jersey City

Trees are tweeting in Jersey City, and residents are invited to join the conversation. #TreeSpeech is a collaboration between Sustainable Jersey City (SJC) and environmental artist Anne Percoco in which residents are assigned Twitter accounts to tweet from a tree’s perspective in the first person. Laminated signs that identify the tree’s twitter username plus the hashtag #TreeSpeech invite passersby to log on and reply.

Normally we treat trees as objects,” says Percoco, “I was wondering what would happen if we started treating them as subjects – as social, responsive individuals. In this way, #Tree Speech is a kind of whimsical experiment in empathy. If we can converse with trees, how will our actions towards them and thoughts about them change? Now that I have started tweeting from its perspective, I pay much more attention to the tree across the street from my apartment. I notice changes, and I’ve started caring for it in small ways. Twitter seemed like a natural vehicle for giving voices to trees.

“At first I was going to tweet for just one tree by myself, but then I found out that Sustainable Jersey City is leading several tree-related initiatives (the NJ Treekeeper’s workshop, OpenTreeMap.org tree inventory, and a partnership with Friends of the Society Hill Walkway). Sustainable Jersey City is structured as a collaborative network, which gave me the idea to use their platform to invite others to participate. #TreeSpeech is also a metaphor for the wood wide web, an underground fungal network that trees use to share information and resources. And I love that Twitter’s logo is a bird.”

@Arlene_The_Tree

@Arlene_The_Tree is one of many tweeting in the #TreeSpeech project

Percoco, tweeting as @DannyTheTree (located across from her apartment in the Heights), is joined by SJC member John Flora, who is tweeting as @MoribundTheTree.

“I chose Moribund,” begins Flora, “because he’s a dying London Plane on an 84 sibling shelter belt along the Hackensack Promenade, a public walkway wrapping around Society Hill. His tree-pit represents valuable space in our flood-prone neighborhood. His slow death has been painful to watch off my back balcony for the past two years.”

Flora says he’s “excited by the education and hands-on projects that Sustainable Jersey City provides. #Tree Speech is a perfect example, focusing on a fun way to highlight sustainability and share the experience with students. Through a larger environmental lens, it’s a positive way to raise public awareness to the serious issues our city faces like flooding and a severely compromised tree canopy.”

Identifying and raising awareness about these serious issues are just a segment of the goals that Percoco (and SJC) have set for #TreeSpeech. “We want to draw attention to the fact that Jersey City’s tree canopy is in rough shape. According to a recent study by the Green Infrastructure Center, we need to add 30,000 trees. We also need to take better care of existing trees, as 20% are dead or dying. But we also want to dispense this information in a playful, whimsical way. This is a new way of doing environmental stewardship, and we hope it also allows cross-species empathy. Finally, we want to let people know how trees benefit us as elements of our city’s green infrastructure. They lower temperatures, utility costs, and building emissions substantially. They also reduce storm water runoff, mitigate climate change impacts, and greatly improve our air quality and public health.”

#TreeSpeech is officially running through September. “Our goal is to have 50 tweeting trees by mid-September,” finishes Percoco, “But participants are free to keep this going as long as they want.”

Anyone interested in tweeting as a tree should send an email to treespeech(at)sustainablejc.org. A suggested donation of $15 will help cover costs.

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Photos courtesy @MoribundtheTree & @Arlene_The_Tree twitter feeds

Mel Kozakiewicz

is a writer, performer, and professor. She lives in the Heights section of Jersey City and she is a former editor for Jersey City Independent.