Krista Kruja couldn’t be happier doing what she’s doing.

Having just finished her second year at McMaster, Krista is now focused on continuing the work that began in earnest last summer, when student Jonathan Valencia and volunteer coordinator Randy Kay first started the Hamilton Street Tree Project.

One of the main summer initiatives of McMaster’s Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), the project’s primary objective is to inform local neighbourhoods about the Street Tree Program that has been funded by the city since 2004.

“The way that the city is doing this is by offering free trees on the city line – most people’s front lawn, or at least a portion of it, belong to the city,” Krista explained. “Anywhere that’s city property, [residents] are allowed to request a tree, and so the city will plant it, and it’s the city’s job to maintain it.”

As the project coordinator, Krista’s role has been to oversee efforts in going door-to-door and canvassing specific neighbourhoods in order to inform the public. Launched in part due to a 2011 Clean Air Hamilton study, OPIRG has focused on lower-income neighbourhoods that were measured to have the poorest air quality in the city.

Hamilton’s Keith neighbourhood, the focus of last summer’s pilot project, received an average of three tree requests per year prior to OPIRG’s efforts. After last year’s canvassing and door-to-door efforts, 65 new trees were planted.

This year, the focus has been on the Crown Point neighbourhood, which is located between Gage and Kenilworth. According to Krista, they’ve received nearly 70 requests for new trees so far, and are hoping to reach 80 by the end.

By expanding the urban canopy, OPIRG hopes to have a real effect on the air quality of these areas. But that’s not all they’re interested in doing with the program, Krista explained.

“Another sub goal [for the project] is community building – last year, it was just one student who went door-to-door and got lots of tree requests. This year we’ve been trying to get volunteers from McMaster, as well as the Crown Point community and Hamilton in general.”

Krista says that this summer, they’ve had more than 10 volunteers, some of whom aren’t even affiliated with OPIRG.

“For example… one of the co-presidents of Engineers Without Borders came out to volunteer, and she got in touch with the community developer for the Crown Point neighbourhood. She wants to work [with the developer] for some events in the school year,” Krista said with an enthusiastic smile. “It’s a nice partnership.”

Although it will be years before the trees have any noticeable effect on the air quality in these neighbourhoods, Krista’s enthusiasm for the project couldn’t be dampened.

“Sure, you don’t necessarily see the fruits of your labour in that air quality probably hasn’t changed much in the Keith neighbourhood from last year to this year, but you see the little trees, and you know that they’re going to get bigger, and in a couple of decades, it’s something you’ll definitely be able to see,” she said.

“Walking through that neighbourhood, maybe 20 or 30 years from now, I’ll be like: Oh, look at that! That’s something I was involved with,” she laughed.

Krista continued, “I think one of the greatest things about it is that it’s just such a big effort on behalf of everyone: McMaster’s done a lot, OPIRG’s done a lot, and Environment Hamilton has been really involved… Without everybody trying to help improve the neighbourhood, it wouldn’t have been possible, so I think it’s really exciting.”

With the project winding down in the first week of July, Krista expressed that she’s very interested in continuing the project during the school year.

“We were thinking of ways we can expand the Street Tree Project so it’s not just for the summer,” she said. “While I’m only working on it for nine weeks, I’m really enjoying it and I think it’s a really valuable thing.”

“I’d love to volunteer and work on it during the school year as well… to whatever capacity I can.”

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