ON A FORESTED ridgeline between the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood Hills is the home of an LA legend: not the Hollywood sign, nor an elegant celebrity mansion, but a hard-working non-governmental organisation headquartered among coastal live oaks and nature trails. It’s here that TreePeople makes its home, inspiring millions of Angelenos to take care of their often maligned city.

A pioneer in the US Citizen Forestry movement, TreePeople’s goal is ambitious – block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, they aim to heal Los Angeles’ ailing urban forest by planting and caring for trees. Founded in 1973 by a group of teenage activists, TreePeople promotes an integrated approach to caring for this living city. It teaches that trees are more than ornamental: trees offer us powerful lessons of sustainability, humility and service.

TreePeople’s TREES Project advocates trees, forests and forest-inspired technologies as solutions to pressing environmental problems. In Southern California, these problems include water availability, high levels of CO2, escalating energy costs, rising asthma rates, and storm-water pollution of rivers, beaches and the Pacific Ocean. To counter these challenges, TreePeople uses ditch-like swales and mulched trees to hold water and allow it to sink slowly into the soil. Another measure is the installation of underground systems that capture and clean storm-water runoff. The water is then stored for irrigation or used to replenish local aquifers.

An ambitious programme using all of these practices is being implemented across a 2,700-acre watershed in one of Los Angeles’ most under-served communities – Sun Valley. One project is a neighbourhood park, covered with a new, lighted soccer field and improved recreation facilities. But the most important elements lie below the goal nets: a chain of devices to clean storm-water runoff, and two enormous basins that allow water to sink into the thirsty, porous soil.

Caring for the city lies at the heart of TreePeople’s work, along with a commitment to empower ordinary people to take extraordinary actions on behalf of the Earth. Training for TreePeople’s Citizen Forestry, Tree Care, Campus Forestry and Mountain Forestry attracts volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and interests – mothers, advertising executives, bus drivers and school-teachers. These well-trained community leaders go on to adopt city blocks, elementary schools, neighbourhood parks and mountain wilderness areas. They work with TreePeople staff to plant, care for and become guardians of thousands of trees each year. Alltogether, TreePeople has helped facilitate the planting of over two million trees in Southern California.

One overlooked benefit of community forestry is the bond formed between neighbours. TreePeople’s founder Andy Lipkis says that the community forestry movement offers strength and protection from natural and human-made disasters. In previous years, TreePeople mobilised thousands of volunteers to rescue victims of floods and mudslides. They were prepared for rapid-response deployment because of the tenacious network of Los Angeles community foresters who had broken soil, bread and concrete together at plantings.

TreePeople offers a whole-system, multidimensional approach to restoration and healing. This model, inspired by the wisdom of trees, includes community participation, good science, design innovation, economic viability and common sense. “There’s a return to wholeness,” Lipkis says. “Whether discussing blueprints with engineers or planting trees with school-children, at the end of the day we’re empowering people to take action. It always comes back to the trees and the people.”

For further information please visit www.treepeople.org.