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Urban Forest Plan: Community Advisory Board (CAB) workshop #1

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Parks and Recreation

Read a meeting summary and emerging themes from the Community Advisory Board workshop #1, "The Trees".

This is workshop one of three for the Community Advisory Board. The workshops will help complete the matrix below. The matrix is one part of how the project is evaluating the condition of Boston's urban forest and how well it's being sustainably managed. This workshop's theme was "the trees", where we discussed characteristics of Boston's urban forest. The next two workshops will be:

  • The players: Who is involved with growing and sustaining the urban forest?
  • The management: We're building upon the first two workshops. Given the characteristics of the urban forest and who is involved, how well is the urban forest being managed? 

We will be posting summaries after the CAB workshops. To learn more about the Community Advisory Board or how to get involved with the Urban Forest Plan, visit the Urban Forest Plan website.

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Meeting summary

On July 19, 2021, the Urban Forest Plan Community Advisory Board (CAB) Group convened for its first workshop to discuss the known statistics and characteristics of Boston's urban forest. Sixty-six (66) people attended the workshop, held online via Zoom. A complete list of the CAB members is included on the project web page.

These workshops are designed as a forum for the community to collectively explore current conditions in Boston, and start to identify challenges and solutions to the most pressing issues. In other words, the workshops provide a method for the community at-large to self-evaluate the sustainability of Boston’s urban  forest. 

This first workshop focused on the data based on the trees themselves. A 15-minute presentation covered the UFP project as a whole: basis, process, timeline, and detailed information on the indicators of a sustainable urban forest based on available tree data.

The results showing the scores of each indicator are shown in the image in this section. The remaining 90 minutes were used for group discussions.

Three small group discussions and emerging themes

After the initial presentation, the CAB broke into eight small breakout groups to discuss three topics. Each breakout group had 6-10 people, including a pre-arranged facilitator from the UFP project team.

In a set amount of time (approximately 15 minutes), the group explored each topic and reported back to the larger group their priorities. The discussions resulted in wide-ranging comments and ideas about the status and future of both the public and private tree canopy. From each discussion topic, themes emerged and are presented below.

Discussion #1: Goals and priorities

QUESTION PROPOSED: Where do we want to be? We know we have 27% tree canopy cover, and that there is no current canopy goal. So what ARE our future goals and priorities? What does your neighborhood look like on that day you can say “We did it.” How will we measure success in the coming years? Help us define an end game — we need to define what success looks like.

Each team was asked to list what was discussed and report back at least three goals or priorities. Detailed notes on each small group conversation were taken and handed in at the conclusion of the meeting.

Discussions and notes revealed the following emerging themes:

More trees. Overarching theme was the need for more trees overall. Suggestions ranged from raising all neighborhoods to the citywide average of 27%, to developing a per capita planting goal, to filling all empty tree pits along streets, to focusing on trees for planting on private land. Other questions emerged, including whether park tree canopy be included when setting canopy goals for neighborhoods.

Concern for losses to development. Significant concern was raised by the group for trees lost to development, including large forested open spaces. Questions were raised on the replacement process for trees lost within current development policy and code.

Must focus on equity and environmental justice. Equity of tree canopy needs to be a focus to ensure that all in the Boston community have access to the benefits trees provide. Specific comments centered on the need for trees especially in areas surrounding highways that face increased air and noise pollution, those facing more extreme heat island effects, and potentially helping low-income families pay for maintenance.

Need to preserve existing trees. Related to the concerns for trees lost to development (above), multiple comments were made citing the need for tree protection measures. A tree ordinance that includes policy and regulations for both public and private land was requested to be explored.

More resources for better maintenance of public trees. Multiple comments called for better maintenance of existing trees, citing the lack of resources by the city dedicated to care of existing trees. Suggestions were made on needing more staff, funding, questions on which department is best suited to manage trees, and the need to make trees a citywide priority across all departments.

Finding space for trees — Get creative / Think broader. Finding space for trees in a dense city like Boston will be challenging. Multiple comments were made calling for creativity and to broaden our horizons when finding space. Beyond parks and street trees, we should be considering green roofs, food forests, green walls, semi-permeable surfaces, and other alternatives.

Focus on public health. Trees are solidly connected to public health. Many cited the importance of tying trees to the many health benefits they provide - both when talking about trees, and deciding where to plant.

More education and awareness. Increase awareness regarding the benefits/role of trees. Many do not understand the value of tree canopy and how vital it is to addressing the challenges facing Boston today. Outreach and guidance is needed for homeowners, elected officials, developers, and others. Sharing experiences between cultures, generations, neighborhoods, and other cities is also key. Education also needed on technical topics as well, i.e. how to plant, care for trees.

Improve the quality of our tree canopy. A diverse tree canopy that is healthy with room to grow is critical for the long term.

Utilize coalitions / partnerships. Many called for the need to leverage partnerships and create coalitions between active groups, integrating other initiatives like those focused on public health, walk/bike efforts, etc.

Address utility conflicts. Multiple comments on challenges in pruning and removals by utilities. Requests to bury power lines were mentioned.

Data sharing, better system. Many comments focused on how data on canopy can be open sourced and is important to keep up to date. There are many sources of data now, none of which are centralized or easily shared/utilized. No data on private trees, which make up the majority of tree canopy is a big gap.

Discussion #2: Challenges

QUESTION PROPOSED: We’ve just heard some top goals and priorities from the group. Next discussion topic is how do we get there? What other challenges are we likely to face in reaching these goals? Do not problem solve yet — just list out challenges we are likely to face.

Each team was asked to list as many challenges as possible and report back their top 3 at the end of the discussion period. Detailed notes on each small group conversation were taken and handed in at the  conclusion of the meeting.

Discussions and notes revealed the following emerging themes:

Public resistance to trees. The group identified a segment of the Boston population that views trees as a nuisance, require a lot of work and resources, and not a priority overall.

Lack of cooperation and central leadership within the City. Trees are not prioritized on every level and department, operations happening in silos means competing priorities of staff. Trees are not viewed or funded as a piece of critical city infrastructure. Education, coordination and collaboration is critical.

Lack of stable leadership and political will. Changes in city leadership (recent and upcoming), combined with trees not being a focus in recent years highlights a lack of leadership and stable political will for tree canopy efforts.

Lack of investment. Funding and resources are currently inadequate to care for existing trees. This is essential to secure every year for lasting progress.

Utility conflicts. Trees and utilities are in constant conflict.

Resistance from developers and inadequate tree protections in place. Comments were made on the power and influence developers hold in Boston, as well as citing that work as a primary source of tree loss within the city. Many believe current tree protections in place are inadequate.

Help needed with maintenance. Many low income owners can’t afford tree maintenance. Ideas proposed re: helping low-moderate income families to pay for tree pruning.

How to address equity. The group brought up multiple ways to assess and correct equity issues related to tree canopy. Questions were raised on where to start and how to approach?

No central data source. Currently management of trees is handled by a patchwork of entities, each with their own sets of data. Multiple suggestions made on one consistent and updated data source.

Private land challenges. The majority of tree canopy is on private land (60%), but reaching private owners about the importance of trees and tree canopy is challenging. Issues likely to emerge between private property rights vs. tree preservation regulations or incentives.

Engagement challenges. High number of renters vs. owners can complicate outreach efforts. Language barriers can be addressed better.

Discussion #3: Solutions and ideas

QUESTION PROPOSED TO GROUPS: Start to brainstorm solutions or approaches to some of the challenges you’ve just described from the last discussion — resources we could be utilizing better. Crazy ideas are great too! All to get us thinking about options.

Each team was asked to list as many solutions as possible and report back their top 3 at the end of the discussion period. Detailed notes on each small group conversation were taken and handed in at the conclusion of the meeting.

Discussions and notes revealed the following emerging themes:

Education efforts. Multiple comments were made on the importance of education, and that it is one of the biggest barriers to progress (people’s lack of understanding of the role trees play AND how to care for trees). Ideas to boost education:

  1. Introduce a new perspective: see trees as something to defend as a person (as in other cultures). “In Ecuador's constitution, there are rights for land and plants.”
  2. Use resources like arboretum and other groups that understand trees
  3. Model program on what Public Works did with BPS
  4. Engage research community
  5. signs/billboards
  6. Neighbors educating neighbors: connecting site stewards with neighbors, connecting neighbors mutual understanding and aid.
  7. Getting schools involved - programs or curriculum
  8. Free workshops for property owners through civic groups
  9. Conservation corps workforce training

Working with developers. Comments ranged from implementing stricter protections, focusing on incentives, including creative green options in development like green roofs, walls, etc.

Adequate funding required for management. Many comments centered around the need for full funding for ongoing management and maintenance. Ideas included increasing taxes, securing federal funds, comparing Boston to other cities funding (to highlight gaps), dedicated division for street trees, and more.

Tree protections and code. Multiple options presented related to tree protection efforts. These include creating a board to regulate removals, requiring permits for private tree removals, offer free pruning of mature trees on private property (as an incentive), and more.

Creativity on finding space. Space is limited in Boston for trees. Comments made to get creative in finding space. Ideas included: roof gardens, food gardens, replacing grass with vegetables, finding uses for undeveloped lots, green infrastructure.

Advocacy and engagement. Boost advocacy for trees by collaborating with partners, empowering neighborhoods to protect their own canopy, build networks to lobby city leadership, create volunteer and youth programs.

Private land. Ideas put forth to regulate removal of trees on private property, consider city aid to homeowners to maintain private trees, and leverage social capital.

Better internal collaboration. New lines of communication internally at the city are needed.  improve internally before partnering with external groups.

Developing standards. Develop standards for all to use on care, planting, preservation, and more.

Equity. Ensure equal representation for all communities.

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