On September 21, 2022, Mayor Wu announced the release of Boston’s 20-Year Urban Forest Plan (UFP), one of the core components of Boston’s Healthy Places Initiative that also includes Boston’s Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston, and a forthcoming Open Space and Recreation Plan anticipated in 2023. At a launch event in the Arnold Arboretum where the City accepted a gift of 10 dawn redwood trees from the Arboretum to symbolically launch the UFP, Mayor Michelle Wu, Reverend-Chief Mariama White-Hammond, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ryan Woods, City Councilors, and PowerCorps Boston leaders and students all spoke to the UFP’s strategy and framework that emphasizes tree canopy retention and expansion in environmental justice neighborhoods with disproportionately low tree canopy coverage, a strategy also known as promoting “tree equity.” A Better City was honored to attend the launch event and to serve on the City’s UFP Community Advisory Board as a Collaborating Partner.
20-YEAR URBAN FOREST PLAN FRAMEWORK
The UFP framework is guided by 4 overarching goals: 1) equity first, 2) proactive care and preservation, 3) community-led, and 4) prioritize and value trees. With these goals in mind, the UFP emphasizes the multiple co-benefits of trees and urban tree canopy, including but not limited to: providing intergenerational ties to nature and neighborhoods, playing an important role in cultural and spiritual practices, improving mental health, providing essential wildlife habitat, reducing heat and adverse health impacts of extreme heat, reducing flooding through effective stormwater management, improving water quality and air quality, helping communities to save money through reduced energy costs, and helping to sequester carbon. The UFP was designed in a consultant-led process in partnership with the City of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as with the input of an Equity Council and Community Advisory Board on which A Better City served as a Collaborating Partner. In coordination with A Better City, the City of Boston convened a Developer Focus Group in the spring of 2022 to gather input from the real estate and development community on proposed UFP policy strategies like tree protection ordinances and interventions on privately owned land.
While the UFP found that tree canopy cover in Boston overall is currently at about 27% and has remained steady citywide since 2014, tree canopy is not equitably distributed across Boston’s neighborhoods – and citywide percentages do not reflect neighborhood-specific canopy losses and gains. Legacies of racist housing policies like redlining have led to decades of cumulative disinvestment in communities of color, leaving environmental justice communities like East Boston with some of the lowest tree canopy percentages across the city. The UFP also found that over 60% of existing tree canopy is on private land and is under the care of a large patchwork of managers (urban tree canopy includes street trees, trees on public property, and trees on private land). While street tree data are now available through the UFP’s efforts to help support more effective management of existing street trees, data on urban tree canopy in Boston remains incomplete with little to no data for trees on privately owned land. Although systems for protecting trees from removal are complex and limited, and room for quality tree growing space is limited, the UFP asserts that trees must be treated as critical infrastructure. Since City staffing and funding resources dedicated to trees have been limited to date, tree planting efforts and care have largely been reactive and insufficient.
The UFP offers 7 overarching strategies for the protection and expansion of urban tree canopy across Boston’s neighborhoods:
The Plan also includes neighborhood-specific strategies for tree planting and care in neighborhoods across the city.
NEXT STEPS: LEVERAGING PRIVATELY OWNED LAND
Both the UFP report and speeches given by Mayor Wu and Reverend-Chief White-Hammond at the launch event highlighted the need to partner with private landowners to address the 60% of Boston’s urban tree canopy on private land. Please contact Isabella Gambill if you would like to become involved in our urban tree canopy and extreme heat work.