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Urban Forest Plan: Community Advisory Board (CAB) workshop #2

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Parks and Recreation

Read a meeting summary and emerging themes from the Community Advisory Board workshop #2, "The Players."

This is workshop two 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 players", where we discussed the human element of urban forestry — who is involved with growing and sustaining the forest, or not? The next workshop will be:

  • 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 August 23, 2021, the Urban Forest Plan Community Advisory Board (CAB) Group convened for its second workshop to discuss the human element of urban forestry -- the Players that impact the urban forest. Sixty (60) 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. 

A 15-minute presentation covered the UFP project as a whole and introduced the main topics - the 9 indicators of a sustainable urban forest related to “The Players.” Unlike the first workshop, where the performance level in each indicator was determined ahead of time based on quantitative data, the topic of this workshop is more qualitative and subjective. The CAB was tasked with deciding and scoring how Boston is doing in each category by individual votes.

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

Group discussions on nine "players" and emerging themes

After the initial presentation, the CAB broke into small breakout groups to discuss each of the categories of players- where Boston is today and how we can improve. The groups explored each topic and came back to the larger CAB to vote on the performance levels for each group of players.

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. Overall, the majority graded Boston in the Low category across the indicators, except for Neighborhood Action, Green Industry, which scored Moderate.  

Question Posed for Each Player Category

  • How are we doing in each of the 9 indicators of an urban forest related to the players?
  • What level of engagement do we have today? 
  • How do we improve? 
  • What do we need to do to achieve the next performance level?  

The Players: Breakout group discussions

Breakout groups

Overall Score: Moderate
Vote: 41% low, 53% moderate, 6% good

Overall Objective: Citizens understand, cooperate, and participate in urban forest management at the neighborhood level. Urban forestry is a neighborhood-scale issue.  

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Lack of Unified Goals/Plan. There are many concerned citizens, but no unified end goals or plans have been made.  So no one is working toward the same vision amongst  neighborhoods.
  • Varying Circumstances in Neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has different demographics and character that can play a role in determining their levels of action or engagement. Some households are more worried about putting food on the table, have more time constraints, etc.  Additionally, many neighborhoods are more transient in nature, with more renters than owners.  Typically, renters have little incentive or power to be involved.  Some neighborhoods with lots of college students have parks that are noticeably more polluted and full of litter (vs. neighborhoods with more families).
  • Education/Awareness Needed. There is a lack of understanding on the value of trees, which impacts the public’s willingness to engage. Generally, there isn’t conversation around trees unless they are causing a problem. Their benefits and value is not advertised (and can be hard to quantify). There is also a lack of general information on how to get and maintain free street trees.
  • Where to Start? How to Get Involved? On a neighborhood level, there doesn't seem to be an umbrella, no structure for community members and groups to get together.  Would be good to have direction on how we could all come together.  There could be more centralization among community groups.  City does not have any neighborhood-based or targeted programs - appears currently that they just respond  to requests.
  • Organization in Response to Destruction. Often organization efforts and group work at the neighborhood level happens in response to a project (construction, etc.) that would result in removal of mature trees (ex. Sycamore in Roslindale, etc.). 

How do we improve?

  • Integrate Efforts. Ensure that trees are recognized within both city-wide and neighborhood initiatives and plans in place. Develop an organizational structure to centralize the work done by community groups.
  • Increase Education and Engagement. Targeted messaging and action steps educating on the value of trees.  These can be tailored messages for different groups with different constraints.
  • Empower Advocates. Block leaders could be involved with tree projects on their streets. 
  • Focus on Beautification. Trees are a key piece to beautification programs, and can be incorporated into streetscape and green infrastructure improvements. Demonstration projects can be advertised, and food forests can help to spark initial interests and advertisement of benefits. Free tree planting could be focused on streets that are most in need.

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 61% low, 37% moderate, 2% good

Overall Objective: The general public understands the benefits of trees and advocates for the role and importance of the urban forest.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Lack of Awareness / Knowledge. The public doesn’t fully understand the benefits that trees bring to their community, nor their function in the city as a whole. There are many areas of the city that do not have any trees. And people have gotten used to it, not knowing what they’re missing. Trees are overlooked as part of our infrastructure.  
  • Nuisance Perception. Many have more concerns over the damage that trees cause, than knowledge of their benefits. People are not willing to be inconvenienced by maintenance activities such as raking leaves. In addition, those with allergies or other respiratory issues often view trees as detrimental to health.
  • Competing Priorities. Even when people do understand the benefits of trees, many have bigger concerns to meet, often centered on meeting basic family needs. Example comments: Too much stuff going on. Too many other demands, especially when there is a pandemic and people are focused on basic life things.  There are also competing interests with other city priorities: renewable energy such as solar companies that may suggest cutting trees, bike lanes and other transportation planning, affordable housing projects consuming entire sites, and relief from parking requirements that adds parking to neighborhoods often at the expense of private and street trees.
  • Lack of Political Will to Prioritize. Awareness stretches beyond the general public and into elected officials and high level city staff.  Trees are not recognized (and thus prioritized) as city infrastructure and are often undervalued in comparison to other needs. 

How do we improve?

  • Better Education Campaigns & Outreach. Many ideas put forth by the groups on education campaign ideas:
    • City tree ID tags with information on species and age, with scan codes leading to further information on how to be involved, should be increased.  
    • Targeting the Right Residents.  There are those who are "tree people" who are very aware, and there are those who oppose trees are pretty convinced there are strong arguments against them. Presumably there is a group in the middle that we should be targeting for education. 
    • Social media campaigns with targeted audiences and messaging can help broaden our audience. 
    • Engage Youth. Incorporate education on trees into the school curriculum, so that children bring the information back to their parents. Green jobs such as a Tree Corps can also be advertised here, in order to increase knowledge, grow, and professionalize the industry.
    • Public awareness needs to start with the younger generation that are buying homes.  City agencies provide home buying courses. Trees should be incorporated into this. Why they are important, how to care for trees, how to plant, etc. 
    • Ensure language around public awareness is accessible.  Language used should be simple and steer away from being overly complex or using intimidating scientific terminology.
    • Educate the public about local ordinances and zoning code.  Help develop tools and outreach that inform citizens about the laws and processes around development, especially as they relate to trees.
  • Focus on Promoting Health-Related Impacts. Make the connection between respiratory health, heat islands, and other climate change impacts. Education of key benefits (primary ones called out: health benefits, reduction of heat stresses) and the amount of care needed in terms of maintenance, planting location, inspection, watering, etc. will go a long way.  Public Parks should also be primarily heat sanctuaries for those heat emergencies like we had last week. If the priority for parks was shade and cooling relief for Boston residents, this would change the amount of trees on every park.

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 65% low, 31% moderate, 4% good

Overall Objective: Large, private, and institutional landholders embrace citywide goals and objectives through targeted resource management plans.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • No Central Goal. How can landowners be aware of and comply with a plan, effort or goal if there isn’t one? Without a common goal, it is hard to hold landholders accountable to the creation of management plans. In addition, large institutions often do not connect with each other and often have different priorities. Universities care about having an attractive campus for prospective students, while private entities and hospitals do not have the same needs.
  • No Space Set Aside for Trees. Many landholders choose to develop their parcels rather than leave green space for trees.
  • Differing Priorities. Landholders tend to think of trees in terms of decoration before their function as shade and stormwater mitigation.  Parking is always prioritized before trees. 
  • Lack of Knowledge / Closed Discussions.  There is a feeling that the development process is often unknown to the public. Many changes occur on privately held land that isn’t protected (beyond larger development projects). The public is often unaware of how to become involved in these discussions.  Additionally, there is an impression that there are no specific goals or regulations for developers to follow, or if there are that they are not enforced.

How do we improve?

  • Education. Information on the value of trees for each property is needed, as well as a shift in mindset towards community ownership and stewardship of our trees.  The leadership and funders in many cases do not appear to fully understand the importance of trees and increasing ecological resilience in the City. This is evidenced in lack of effort to hire and support specialized natural resource managers.
  • Development Regulations. Better regulations and policy frameworks are needed for development projects.
  • Create a Space for Peer to Peer Discussions. A framework for bringing landholders together for peer discussions on creative solutions would bring better buy in than simply telling them what to do.
  • Increase Incentives. Provide incentives that can help property owners maintain and plant additional trees (vs. penalties).
  • Venturing into Neighborhoods. Large landholders such as universities could do more to plant and maintain trees within their adjacent neighborhoods, as reparations for gentrification and displacement.

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 71% low, 27% moderate, 2% good

Overall Objective: Neighboring communities and regional groups are actively cooperating and interacting to advance the region's stake in the city's urban forest.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Lack of Consistent Messaging. Some groups have excellent outreach efforts to advertise trees, but this could be coordinated more on a regional level to strengthen the message.
  • Siloed Activities. Each organization tends to have a different emphasis.
  • Lack of a Broader Goal. Consensus appears to be that a comprehensive City plan is needed to set a broader goal first.  Then coordination can ensue.

How do we improve?

  • City Leadership.  There have been groups working to coordinate (BUFF, Speak for the Trees, etc.) with some successes on a smaller scale.  But the City should lead here.  A city-wide plan and initiative is needed first, before we can get anywhere as a region.
  • Coordinate Efforts. Multiple ideas were proposed to better coordinate regional efforts:
    • A central entity to help create regional infrastructure to address issues together in all of greater Boston.  
    • Coordinating with watershed groups, interdisciplinary could be important to convey to the public that it’s not just trees, but how they could affect our water quality, etc..
    • Connect with EJ organizations. Whatever form collaboration takes, it should prioritize and direct resources to the most vulnerable/environmental justice communities.
  • Share Data. There is a major potential for regional collaboration, particularly with data sharing. Many partners (even within Boston city limits) have multiple sets of data that aren’t easily consolidated to look at the broader region.  This could lead to more collaboration overall. 

Overall Score: MODERATE
Vote: 48% low, 50% moderate, 2% good

Overall Objective: The green industry works together to advance citywide urban forest goals and objectives. The city and its partners capitalize on local green industry expertise and innovation.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Exclusion of Green Industry.  City projects are led by different industries, and those with tree expertise are not always included early on.  Must work to ensure entities like BPDA and Boston Transportation Department (BTD) are utilizing green industry experts in their projects. 
  • Quality Issues.  Green industry contractors' work ranges widely in terms of quality. Contractors working here range from good (qualified arborists/landscapers) to bad (fly-by-night).  
  • Lack of Authority or Influence. Green industry workers are limited to whatever the client requests, which can involve removing entire trees or portions of trees.  Landscape architects are often limited in their advocacy due to developer needs, which are usually to maximize their profit.  LEED buildings aren’t necessarily held to any kind of standards around trees, just energy.
  • Importance is Catching On. While there is not enough currently, people are starting to notice. Increasingly seeing companies that are interested in tree canopy, doing tech-based assessments on canopy (innovation focused).  Many landscape architects and civil engineering groups have embraced green infrastructure design and are working to create details that would enable trees to survive in challenging streetscape environments. In past years we've had sessions to discuss structural soil, suspended sidewalks, and other ways to give street trees a better chance of surviving when space is limited.  There is a lot of interest and energy from tree care companies who are in need of workers.

How do we improve?

  • Develop an Acceptable Species List. The City can create a list of desirable trees for developers to plant, and create regulations against invasives.
  • Increase Coordination. Identification of green industry players is needed, as well as resources for them to collaborate on education and outreach.
  • Education and Promotion of Value of Trees.  Often climate resilience projects are led by engineers, who might not have the same level of appreciation for trees and the work that they do. How do we educate this group on the importance of tree canopy so they take it in consideration in their projects/work? 
  • Development Regulations. It would be much better for the city to require that all developers plant shade trees and require all landscape architects and landscapers to recommend shade trees.

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 57% low, 43% moderate, 0% good

Overall Objective: Local funders are engaged and invested in urban forestry initiatives. Funding is adequate to implement a citywide urban forest management plan.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Funders Haven’t Connected Climate with Urban Forestry.  There is a lot of funder engagement in climate change initiatives, but not explicitly with the connection to urban tree canopy.  Grants tend to oversimplify the process and aim towards numbers of trees planted, but are less inclined to quantify and measure other ecological benefits. 
  • Not Enough Funding for Maintenance. There are huge gaps in funding needs.  Maintenance and the nuances of tree care are not often accounted for, and instead focus is put on simply planting trees.  Funders don't always understand maintenance and the nuances of tree care needed over the life of the tree .Corporate funders and private donors like to see 100’s of trees going into the ground but don’t often account for maintenance of those trees.
  • Funding Competition. Funders tend to have their own specific interests, and in general there is competition for funding between organizations and between neighborhoods.  Wealthier neighborhoods seem to be able to attract more funding, while needing less tree canopy improvements than neighborhoods of lower economic levels.
  • Lack of City Funding. The Parks Department is in need of funds to hire more staff and increase capacity to care for the trees on streets and in parks. There currently seems to be a lack of concerted commitment within the city for a large-scale vision around tree equity.

How do we improve?

  • Change the Narrative.  Promoting urban forestry work as efforts to improve public health or address the climate change stresses instead of beautifying neighborhoods may result in more funding for tree canopy efforts.  Increasing publicity on the benefits of trees and related carbon sequestration should garner more support and funding. 
  • Provide Options to Fund the UFP.  Urban forestry appears to be gaining traction and therefore attracting more funding. This is a step in the right direction. Give funders a direction on what is needed to increase the canopy via this UFP.  
  • Prioritize Funding Maintenance. Promote the long term needs and importance of adequate fundings for maintenance.  Work to ensure funders are taking these needs into account (City included). 
  • Explore Other Sources.  Be on the lookout for new funding sources.  One example given: there could be a mitigation fund that utilities pay into that can be used for tree planting.  

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 78% low, 20% moderate, 2% good

Overall Objective: All utilities are aware of and vested in the urban forest and cooperates to advance citywide urban forest goals and objectives.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Competing Priorities. Utilities are focused on keeping the power on and people safe, which can mean removing a significant portion of tree canopy, despite the company's awareness of their benefits.
  • Varying Knowledge and Support. Utilities have many staff that work throughout the area.  Some utilities leaders were identified as being very knowledgeable and supportive of tree canopy efforts, while work on the ground doesn’t appear to the public to reflect that same support or knowledge. 
  • Hands-Off Approach by City. There appears to be little pushback on utilities by the City.  Reasons list for this included an underfunded and overworked City staff, another cited potential lack of authority in this area.
  • Lack of Communication of Existing Efforts.  Utilities may not be utilizing PR effectively.  For example, after a storm, news coverage highlights utility companies restoring power. While there is a lot of pressure, the public doesn’t hear about energy companies working with trees and caring about management.  It is not clear if utilities are engaged, but they are not talking about it.  As it stands, they appear to be reactionary, not strategic.
  • Some Efforts in Place.  There are some efforts in place - the sewer department is doing more and more green infrastructure projects, and the power company promotes education (right tree, right place, etc.).
  • Gas Leaks.  Leaks were cited as a major problem in relation to street trees, as well as public health in general. 

How do we improve?

  • Ensure Good Planting Choices. Improve planting plans and tree lists to ensure trees near utilities are planted where they will thrive best.
  • Provide Resources/Staff. With additional staff, the City could better inspect plans, projects, and utility work.
  • Make a Plan to Address the Gas Leaks.  Gas companies need to offer gas level inspection services before trees are planted, or the City needs more staff to look into gas leaks directly.
  • Bury Power Lines. Many suggested burying overhead wires when possible, ex.when a developer tears down a house to put in condos, etc.
  • Plan for Immediate & Local Replacement.  If trees need to be removed, ensure they are  replaced in the community where it was taken (no requirements in place currently) and replaced with an appropriate size replacement tree.   Another suggestion highlighted MBTA, when trees are cleared along their many lines, to require MBTA to replace them elsewhere in the city. 

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 89% low, 11% moderate, 0% good

Overall Objective: The development community is aware of and vested in the urban forest and cooperates to advance citywide urban forest goals and objectives.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Lack of City Goals.  City does not have clear goals in place to ask any developer to follow.
  • Lack of Expertise. Developers do not appear to understand proper tree care. Planting is often done incorrectly, with lack of root zone protection, planting too deep or too shallow, and volcano mulching.
  • Competing Priorities. Trees are given less priority over projects such as affordable housing. Developers often favor the money-making option over greenspace that would increase residents’ quality of life. 
  • Preservation is Not a Priority.  Developers are more willing to plant a new tree than save an existing mature tree.

How do we improve?

  • Get Better Regulations in Place. Create a new ordinance. When BPDA meets with developers they need a section on trees.  Incorporate trees into LEED standards. Enforce City standards. Require a bigger setback to make space for street trees.  Developers discuss trees only after their projects have been approved - there's little attention paid to trees at the start of projects.
  • Create Incentives. Incentivize developers (ie. tax incentives) who keep existing mature trees and incorporate greenspace.  Financial incentive for developers to keep trees or add trees (instead of punishment).
  • Empower Neighborhoods.  Empower neighborhoods to demand better development.

Overall Score: LOW
Vote: 60% low, 40% moderate, 0% good

Overall Objective: All city departments and agencies cooperate to advance citywide urban forestry goals and objectives.

Themes from group discussions on current performance levels:

  • Lack of Collaboration. Common sentiment from public and City employees is that there is a lack of collaboration between both people, departments and plans. Departments are siloed.
  • Inconsistent Messaging. Departments have differing knowledge on tree benefits, and how they can be incorporated into their mandates. 
  • Lack of Communication. This includes both within departments between the City and the public. Process and City organization have too many layers to sort through.

How do we improve?

  • Education and Engagement. Increase education amongst City staff to ensure all departments are on the same page.  Multiple city staff agreed that there is a need for agencies to be educated about the role of trees and their role in that.
  • Improve Policy. Create a tree protection ordinance with proper planting specifications for all departments to utilize.
  • Transparency. Increase public-facing information so that all can understand how the City works, and how they can be involved with increasing tree canopy.
  • Gather the Departments.  Continue the effort to cross train and educate on tree and heat issues in a group meeting of representatives from departments ie. UFP’s interdepartmental working group.  
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