A Penn student explores environmental challenges from a sociological perspective
When you envision environmental careers in urban areas, you might not think of forestry. But after Bailey Smith (Master of Environmental Studies ’19—expected) spent a year working with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as an urban forestry intern, she tapped into a set of questions that would inspire her capstone research at Penn. What began as a study of street tree governance in Philadelphia—who takes care of the trees, what causes a street tree to thrive or fail—branched into an exploration of how city residents feel about trees, and where and why we choose to plant them.
“The benefits of planting trees are amazing,” says Bailey. “Neighborhoods with more tree cover have less crime. Trees improve community building and public safety, and lower instances of asthma.” But planting the wrong kind of tree for an urban environment can create other issues, Bailey explains. Large trees can develop sidewalk-wrecking roots or drop slippery leaves that make walking hazardous for pedestrians; certain flowering trees may shower sticky sap or pollen onto cars. Interviewing specialists in urban tree policy and maintenance, Bailey is developing a more detailed understanding of how Philadelphia can select and care for species that will encourage both its trees and its neighborhoods to thrive.
In addition to her capstone research, Bailey recently concluded another internship with the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance, where she worked with local businesses to publicize affordable sustainable energy measures and coordinated with the mayor of Harrisburg to proclaim an Energy Efficiency Day in October. “Energy efficiency can truly be a driving force in the business world,” says Bailey, whose interest in corporate environmental strategy emerged from courses she took at the Wharton School and Penn Law. Learning about corporate sustainability from experts in both business and environmental fields was an “eye-opening” experience, according to Bailey. “The Master of Environmental Studies is very flexible, and being able to see and learn from different perspectives is really helpful.”
What do urban forestry and energy efficiency have in common? Aside from providing the opportunity to learn about environmental sustainability from different angles, Bailey’s work is rooted in the study of how human beings care for the environment, especially in cities. “My duty as an environmentalist is to seek out areas that need help,” says Bailey, “and I am passionate about policy that can transform the lives of people in urban settings by supporting a more sustainable environment.”