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Firms selected to develop Boston's first Urban Forest Plan

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Parks and Recreation

Guided by interdepartmental collaboration and community engagement, the plan’s goal is to develop strategies to grow and protect Boston’s trees.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ryan Woods today announced the consultants selected to develop Boston’s Urban Forest Plan. Boston landscape architecture firm Stoss Landscape Urbanism and forestry consultant Urban Canopy Works have been selected to co-lead the effort to develop the City of Boston’s first Urban Forest Plan. Stoss was awarded the contract with Urban Canopy Works as a subconsultant. The 20-year plan will set citywide goals for canopy protection, be responsive to climate change and development, and enhance the quality of life for all Bostonians. The Urban Forest Plan will be a collaborative effort that includes a community advisory group, interdepartmental working group and community outreach. Recognizing that environmental injustice exists in Boston, the planning process will embed support for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental stressors. Planning will touch upon a wide variety of topics, such as ecology, design, policy, practices and funding. 

“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,” said Mayor Walsh. “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.”

“It’s no coincidence that many of the communities disproportionately impacted by poor air quality and the urban ‘heat island’ effect, also have inadequate tree cover,” said Commissioner Woods. “We’re excited to collaborate with these partners to find opportunities for growing tree canopy in the places that need it most.”

The project team will also work closely with a community advisory group and an interdepartmental working group with input from residents, community organizations, businesses, and institutions. Kicking off in spring of 2021, the planning process will take approximately one year to complete. The community advisory group will be formed in late spring of this year. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the plan in early fall, after the assessment and scoping phases. 

One of the project tasks, along with scoping the project and assessing the existing state of the canopy, will be to develop a plan for engaging the community. The outreach plan will prioritize populations that have been disproportionately exposed to environmental stressors; be sensitive to differences in cultures, economic realities, and built environments across Boston; incorporate City of Boston Language and Communications Access guidelines; consider equity and accessibility in both in-person and online engagement strategies; and retain flexibility to adapt engagement strategies in response to changing public health recommendations. 

Joining Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Urban Canopy Works, the plan will be developed with contributions from American Forests, Nitsch Engineering, PlanITGeo, local experts, and the public. Dr. Neenah Estrella-Luna, a social equity and anti-racism consultant, will support the effort to make environmental justice the foundation of the project.

“Our job is to fuel the project’s success by coordinating efforts between all the partners who each bring their own unique expertise,” said Stoss’ Amy Whitesides and her team. “The ultimate goal is to maximize the health of Bostonians and their environment. We’re proud to work with the City of Boston on this shared commitment to Boston’s Urban Forest Plan.”

”Trees are a vital component of ​livable communities,” said Rachel Comte of Urban Canopy Works. “And we know that communities can make visionary changes when everyone is at the table. We are pleased to work with the City of Boston to develop a community-driven urban forest plan.”

The final plan document will highlight policy tools to control canopy loss on private property, as well as guidelines for protecting and expanding canopy on public property, like streets and parks. Over the past five years, tree removals on residential, private, and institutional property have been the main contributors to canopy loss. The finalized plan will provide recommendations for canopy protection and expansion through proposed changes to the development review process, as well as new policies and ordinances, including draft language and methods of enforcement aimed at protecting and expanding the tree canopy.

The Urban Forest Plan is a critical piece of the vision for the City's tree canopy goals laid out in Imagine Boston 2030 and Climate Ready Boston. The City launched Climate Ready Boston in 2016 to develop resilient solutions to prepare for the effects of climate change: flooding due to sea-level rise, increased storms, and extreme heat. Urban Forest planning is closely aligned with Climate Ready Boston, as trees provide cooling shade, reduce the risk of heat illness, and are key to making Boston’s communities resilient to climate change. Targeted investments in green infrastructure will be important, as heat island exposure is greater in neighborhoods with limited green space. The City of Boston Environment Department will be launching a heat resilience planning study this spring.

In addition to the $500,000 budgeted for the Urban Forest Plan, historic investments in Boston's tree canopy this year will also support the hiring of a new arborist and the added capacity for up to 1,000 additional tree plants, doubling the total capacity to 2,000 trees planted per year. The Tree Canopy Assessment, released in September, supports efforts to increase access to trees and their benefits in "under-treed" neighborhoods, as a part of the City's commitment to environmental justice. Information provided in the report is foundational to the Urban Forest Plan, as well as future policy and planning efforts. 

For more information about Boston’s Urban Forest Plan, please email maggie.owens@boston.gov.

About the Boston Parks and Recreation Department

The Parks and Recreation Department creates and maintains clean, green, safe, and accessible public parks and open space throughout Boston. The department is responsible for 217 parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, two golf courses, 65 squares, 17 fountains, 75 game courts, 16 historic and three active cemeteries, urban wilds, four High School Athletic Fields, and approximately 125,000 trees, all covering 2,346 acres, 1,000 of which comprise the historic Emerald Necklace. Parks and Recreation is also responsible for more than 35,000 street trees.

About the Environment Department

The City of Boston Environment Department's mission is to enhance the quality of life in Boston by protecting air, water, climate, and land resources, and preserving and improving the integrity of Boston's architectural and historic resources. 

About Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Stoss is a pioneering design firm focused on creating vital, resilient and equitable social spaces within the public realm. Their work is informed by the belief that landscape is transformative, an influential catalyst in the reshaping of cities, revitalization of communities, and reversal of social and environmental injustice. Founded in Boston in 2001, their mission is to tackle the most demanding issues of our time, working to challenge perceptions, curate new experiences, and imagine new possibilities that connect people to one another and to the living, dynamic worlds around them.  

About Urban Canopy Works

Urban Canopy Works, LLC is a women-owned firm dedicated to the advancement of trees and the tree canopy in our urban and developed areas. An interdisciplinary team of city arborists, urban planners, engagement specialists, community forestry consultants, and tree risk managers, the firm’s focus is to help communities become healthier, greener, more resilient and equitable. Urban Canopy Works’ mission is to contribute, serve others, and make a difference in today's world.  

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