Building the Urban Forest

Southeastern sociology graduate students partnered with SOUL of New Orleans to implement innovative strategies for a successful community-based approach to tree planting to reforest the city.

Urban Forest Students

In January 2019, the Southeastern Louisiana University Applied Environmental Sociology Seminar began a partnership with Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) of New Orleans to research methods to spread their message and success through the city. SOUL’s mission is to drive a resilient and environmentally equitable New Orleans through reforesting the city. SOUL was launched in June 2016, and since then, the organization has planted more than 1,800 large, native, water-loving trees.

In the past, SOUL favored an “opt-in” approach to planting where residents would request trees to be planted on their properties. With the help of the city, SOUL could implement the “opt-out” program where an entire neighborhood would have trees planted and individual residents could opt-out of receiving trees.

In an effort to expand, SOUL tasked the Applied Environmental Sociology Seminar with enhancing their opt-in/opt-out methods. Within this project, the Applied Environmental Sociology Seminar researched similar organizations, volunteered in this season’s tree plantings, and presented SOUL with recommendations for future tree plantings.

In early May, the Seminar presented their findings to SOUL just in time for their meeting with the city about the future of SOUL. Creating a community-based approach to tree planting and incorporating new advertising strategies ultimately proved the best strategy moving forward. This Seminar utilized the training learned within their classes to conduct research on the history of past negotiations between non-profits and community members, to research environmentally conscious and socially progressive means to conduct service, and to utilize social theory within their research.