On Friday, February 12, Mayor Martin Walsh and the Boston Parks and Recreation department announced that Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Kentucky’s nonprofit forestry consultants Urban Canopy Works would co-develop the city’s first official Urban Forestry Plan.
“Trees are an important part of making Boston’s communities resilient. This plan is the first of its kind in Boston, and it will expand and protect one of our most precious natural resources, while prioritizing the needs of our residents,” wrote Mayor Walsh in a February 17 formal announcement. “Developing an urban forest plan is important to ensure our tree canopy in Boston is equitable, responsive to climate change and ensures quality of life for all Bostonians. This collaborative project with Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Urban Canopy Works will prioritize community input to ensure that residents in our neighborhoods have a central voice in this process.”
The planning process is scheduled to begin later this spring and take approximately one year. Once complete, the Urban Forest Plan will slot into both Imagine Boston 2030 and Climate Ready Boston, as managing urban trees are an important component in each. Aside from sequestering carbon, trees provide shade on hot days and mitigate the heat island effect (and pointedly don’t do so in lower-income areas devoid of foliage), prevent soil runoff by netting dirt in their roots, and generally improve quality of life. However, trees in American cities, especially in poorer neighborhoods, have always been a contentious issue and many were taken down in the name of “safety,” even as research indicates that neighborhoods with trees are often safer than those without.
That’s why a community advisory group will be formed in the spring to help guide the team, and the public will be given a chance to weigh in during the advisory and scoping phases of the project, expected to begin this fall. The plan will first prioritize typically underserved neighborhoods and populations first (ie, those most affected by pollution and historically racist zoning) as part of its environmental justice platform.
With $500,000 allocated for the Urban Forest Plan, a new city arborist is expected to be hired and the city’s annual planting rate of 1,000 trees per year will double. Determining where these new trees go, what species they will be, and how to best take care of them (and encourage the community to get engaged with their care), will all be up to the Stoss and Urban Canopy Works. Aside from replanting underserved public areas such as parks and road verges, the team will also devise policies for preventing urban canopy loss on private properties. The city’s development review process will also be changed to incentivize reforestation.