A Better City’s Comments on City of Boston RFI for Tree Planting on Private Land



A Better City played an active role in the development of Boston’s 20-Year Urban Forest Plan (UFP), serving as a Collaborating Partner on the Community Advisory Board, as well as participating alongside ABC members and colleague organizations in a Developer Focus Group. One of the key challenges discussed in the development of the UFP is that over 60% of Boston’s existing tree canopy is on privately owned land, with little data on the status of that canopy or future plans for tree canopy maintenance and expansion.

One policy lever to govern tree canopy is the establishment of a tree protection ordinance, which would impact the maintenance and stewardship of existing trees on both public and privately owned land in Boston. While there was a tree ordinance proposed by Boston City Councilors Braedon and Arroyo, the ordinance did not move forward. As we heard in the UFP Developer Focus Group and other forums, tree protection ordinances could have significant unintended consequences in stalling affordable housing projects, in creating conflicts between critical infrastructure upgrades (including safe utilities), in recovering from extreme winds and storm damage, and more. As many private landowners pointed out, there are developers and landowners who are very interested in preserving and expanding their tree canopy and are doing so already without the need for punitive tree protection ordinances. With new developments increasingly considering tree canopy and other forms of green infrastructure improvements, alongside institutional properties like Northeastern University and Harvard University maintaining arboretums on their campuses, there is already significant leadership and momentum to be leveraged on privately owned land in Boston.

After finalizing and releasing the UFP in fall 2022, the City of Boston wanted to explore opportunities to work alongside private landowners on tree canopy maintenance, expansion, and improvement of tree equity across neighborhoods. As a result, the City released a Request for Information regarding tree planting activity on privately owned land in Boston, which included a proposal for a new governing body called “The Alliance,” or an alliance of non-profit organizations, private landowners, and city representatives to help implement solutions within the Urban Forest Plan, across both private and public lands. The Alliance model was taken from an existing program in Montreal, and the City was intentional about providing an opportunity for the public to comment in response to a more general RFI, prior to a future and more formal Request for Proposal, from groups that may be interested in participating in and/or leading The Alliance.

A Better City submitted comments to the City of Boston in response to their Request for Information’s sub-categories: planting strategy, long-term care, procurement, City role in Alliance formation, City role in Alliance implementation, engagement with private property owners, accountability and quality control, legal considerations, and other. For planting strategy, ABC recommended clarifying priority tree planting neighborhoods, and that the City help to facilitate community-based organization and business community partnerships around tree planting and ongoing maintenance. To promote long-term care, ABC recommended clarifying best practices, incorporating the role of tree canopy data, providing incentives and case studies, offering financial and technical support for arboretum establishment (especially on affordable housing projects), and providing tree maintenance training to existing facilities staff. For procurement considerations, ABC recommended prioritizing simplicity and consistency, as well as considering the establishment of Green Management Agencies, or GMAs. Regarding the City’s role, we recommended the City act as a convenor across private landowners and relevant stakeholders rather than implement yet another layer of regulatory action, governance, and/or red tape. We also suggested leveraging existing policy and zoning to improve private tree canopy, like Article 37, the green building section of Article 80. To help engage private property owners, ABC recommended activating private landowners through focus groups, establishing incentive programs, building upon existing private property maintenance staff and data, and consolidating utility work whenever possible to avoid disrupting the pavement and tree root structures. Finally, for accountability, quality control, and legal considerations, ABC emphasized the importance of establishing contracts and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with private property owners regarding private tree canopy.

For any questions on the City of Boston’s tree planting efforts on private land, please contact Isabella Gambill.


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