A Better City Celebrates the Launch of Boston’s First 20-Year Urban Forest Plan



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.


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:

  1. Expand and Reorganize Urban Forestry Management: The UFP recommends establishing a new Forestry Division within the Boston Parks and Recreation Department that will expand Boston’s tree team from 5 to 16 city employees, with resources to plant new trees and steward existing trees. New positions will include a Director of Urban Forestry, 3 additional arborists, 3 three-person maintenance crews, and other support staff. The new City positions were designed to include opportunities for individuals who will soon graduate from PowerCorps Boston, a workforce development program launched in spring 2022 for youth aged 18-30 to learn skills in urban forestry (among other tracts like the anticipated building operations tract). This strategy will also involve instituting a community tree board and a network for institutional coordination on canopy protection and expansion.
  2. Protect and Care for Existing Trees: The UFP recommends developing a proactive workplan for trees on public land, including instituting a recurring maintenance program, performing plant health care and integrated pest management, prioritizing proactive tree care in areas of highest need, increasing interdepartmental support on urban forestry efforts, and exploring policies to protect and enhance the urban forest. Importantly, although the UFP calls for consideration of policies like tree protection ordinances for trees on both public and private land, such policies will need to be pursued in partnership with City Council and community partners before being implemented.
  3. Expand Canopy: The UFP recommends establishing a process for neighborhood planting strategy, including how to identify and plant in priority areas like low canopied environmental justice neighborhoods, how to expand canopy with future resilience in mind, how to expand street trees, and how to target canopy expansion in or near heavily polluted areas to improve public health and quality of life.
  4. Make Space and Improve Conditions for Trees: This strategy suggests significant adjustments to the public realm, including actions like balancing parking and room for planting, reestablishing a setback planting program, exploring tree planting in vacant and underutilized lots, new planting standards, minimizing above-grade and below-grade conflicts, and improving soil quality and quantity.
  5. Improve Communications – Both Process and Content: This strategy seeks to address past inequitable practices in community engagement, and to improve both communications and constituent services around the importance of urban tree canopy.
  6. Improve Information Collection and Sharing: This strategy recommends completing the public tree data set and exploring data collection across private land, making tree data more accessible to residents, planning and budgeting for the next Urban Tree Canopy assessment update, performing an analysis of tree canopy losses, and ensuring sufficient resources for data upkeep.
  7. Build and Support a Local Tree Workforce: As mentioned above, this strategy will build off the PowerCorps Boston urban forestry cohort, to help promote equitable workforce opportunities and establish a career pathway program into urban forestry.

The Plan also includes neighborhood-specific strategies for tree planting and care in neighborhoods across the city.


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.

To view the full UFP report, please see here. To view the Urban Forest Plan’s Street Tree Map, see here. To learn more about the City’s heat plan, see A Better City’s summary blogpost here.

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