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Urban Forest Plan: Commonly asked questions

This will be updated periodically throughout the project. 

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Project background

Project background

The Boston Urban Forest Plan is a citywide, strategic plan. We're investing long-term in Boston’s trees. Over the next two decades, the plan will guide the entire Boston community. It will help prioritize, preserve, and grow our tree canopy.

Tree canopy refers to the shade provided by trees in a city. Canopy coverage reflects the percentage of area covered by trees when viewed from above. This includes all their leaves, branches, and trunks. Tree canopy is often used to compare the areas of a city covered by trees with other land covers, including:

  • hard surfaces (for example, buildings, sidewalks, and parking lots), and
  • bare soil and water.

Boston faces a range of environmental and health challenges and stressors. Trees will play an important part in responding to many of these issues. Trees provide a range of benefits both to residents and the broader environment. Shade on a hot summer day. Cleaning the air. Reducing flooding by capturing rain. The Urban Forest Plan will provide strategies that improve the health, longevity, and number of trees in the City. 

We want to increase the many benefits trees provide. These include the cultural and social values provided by trees. These values are often not so easily measured, but are still critically important. Those more likely to live in neighborhoods with limited canopy, or canopy in poor or declining health, include:

  • communities of color
  • linguistically isolated groups
  • socio-economically disadvantaged populations, and
  • other historically excluded and socially vulnerable groups.

One goal of the plan is to develop strategies that create an equitable urban forest. Through this process, we will document and honor the views, needs, dreams, and desires of various residents and stakeholders.

Climate change will create challenges to the health and well-being of Boston’s residents and its trees. This is especially true in socially vulnerable communities. Summers will be hotter. Severe storms will happen more often. There will be more flooding. There will be new diseases and pests that will force both people and trees to adapt. Native trees will also be competing with new invasive species. There also may be new opportunities for trees that would never have survived in our region. The Urban Forest Plan will provide strategies to create a climate resilient urban forest. We hope to accommodate for climate changes and take advantage of those new tree opportunities.

A healthy forest will endure far into the future. This means it is critical to develop strategies with clearly defined goals that guide action in the long-run. An equitable urban forest also requires collective action and engagement by a broad and diverse group of stakeholders. In doing so, the Urban Forest Plan will provide the guidance Boston needs to:

  • redress historic disparities
  • foster equity, and
  • create a healthy urban forest for Boston’s residents long into the future.

The Boston Urban Forest Plan will be a year-long effort made up of several phases. Throughout this process, there will be many ways to become involved in the plan.

The first part of the work to get started will be the urban forest canopy inventory.  An urban forest canopy inventory refers to an assessment of the existing conditions of the street trees in a city.  This assessment will be carried out by a team of trained arborists. The data they collect will provide an important snapshot in time of the condition of Boston’s street trees. These are an important part of the urban forest. It will serve as a key benchmark for the plan. The data collected will provide information that will help guide future decisions. The information collected will range from high-level questions (how many trees are there) to the tree-level assessment of quality.

At the same time, the City and consultant team will begin work on engagement and analysis of the urban forest. We will work to engage with and get input from:

  • community-based organizations
  • other nonprofit organizations, and
  • the broader public.

This information will help provide an understanding of the practices and policies that help shape the condition of the current urban forest. We will also learn about desires for the future. This analysis will include (but not be limited to) an assessment of:

  • existing policies and programs
  • management practices, and
  • other technical considerations.  

The team will then begin, with the City and stakeholders, developing key goals and metrics. These will define the objectives of the Urban Forest Plan. We will incorporate the input and analysis conducted, as well as:

  • best practices
  • technical recommendations, and
  • the scientific knowledge of experts

Our goal is to produce the set of strategies, policies, and programs that will enable the City to achieve the plan's goals. Finally, we will create a roadmap that will outline key steps and timelines for the plan. The roadmap will help identify actionable items and guide future decision making.

Social equity and environmental justice are key to long-term resilience. They will be at the core of the Urban Forest Plan. Those more likely to live in neighborhoods with fewer trees or unhealthy trees include:

  • communities of color
  • linguistically isolated groups
  • socio-economically disadvantaged populations, and
  • other historically excluded and socially vulnerable groups.

This reflects histories of disinvestment and discriminatory land use, current zoning practices, and other factors. Our plan integrates a focus on equity and environmental justice in three key ways through:

  1. engagement
  2. analysis, and
  3. final recommendations. 

We acknowledge voices and concerns that have historically been excluded from formal decision making processes, specifically:

  • communities of color
  • linguistically isolated communities
  • socio-economically disadvantaged populations, and
  • other marginalized groups.

They are often left outside of formal public input and planning processes more broadly. We will develop engagement strategies to respond to these histories. We want to build a wide range of approaches. Our hope is to ensure meaningful participation from historically excluded communities.


Our understanding of the existing condition of the urban forest will be based on a deep analysis. This analysis will focus on the ways canopy overlap and intersect with:

  • environmental justice
  • social vulnerability criteria, and
  • other historical and current disparities.
Strategy Development

Our goals and strategies will aim to expand a healthy urban forest. We will do this while actively supporting environmental justice. These strategies will emerge from:

  • a careful analysis of current practices, and
  • discussions regarding community needs in Boston.

To provide some examples, strategies from other cities have included:

  • tree protection and maintenance policies
  • direct investments in planting, and
  • workforce development focused on neighborhoods with fewer trees and canopy coverage, often as the outcome of historically exclusionary plans, policies, and laws.

Trees provide many benefits, not all of which can be measured. This plan will consider the cultural and social importance of trees to our city and residents.  Those can range from:

  • the sense of awe a child feels next to a long-standing grandmother tree, to
  • the symbolism and value numerous religions place on trees.  

Trees are a living history. They are a connection to the past — a time machine, if you will! They are also reflections of our shared commitments to our natural environment. Trees can serve as both:

  • landmarks for everyone ("go left at the big tree"), and
  • deeply personal markers ("this is the tree where we got engaged"). 

Finally, trees are connections to our collective future. The health and success of trees in the City are key to passing on a healthier, happier, more vibrant, and equitable city to the next generation. It is our hope then that the next generation will become engaged with our work. We want them to learn from and eventually take on their role as stewards and caregivers for our trees. 

The Boston Urban Forest Plan, and the process that produces it, will remain open to these many meanings and values. We want to ensure they are incorporated into its recommendations.

An urban forest refers to all the trees in a city. These include trees on both public and private lands, from the trees in City parks to the trees in your yard. Approaching the trees within the City as an urban forest is important. It more closely reflects the dynamics of the natural systems that determine the health and impact of those trees. We're managing and planning for the whole urban forest, as opposed to a piecemeal approach. We want to create a plan that provides for the holistic and collaborative care of our shared environment.

Community Advisory Board (CAB)

Community Advisory Board

The Community Advisory Board (CAB) is a body that provides formal input from a range of engaged representatives throughout the life of the project.  CABs are common across City of Boston projects. But, this project is taking a new approach to the design and selection of the CAB. This results from an effort to listen and incorporate the:

  • concerns
  • ambitions, and
  • priorities of historically marginalized communities in the outcome and recommendations of the Urban Forest Plan.

We want to build new and critical relationships between communities groups and government departments.

The CAB for the Urban Forest Plan is made up of three sets of participants:

  1. members of an Equity Council
  2. an Intergovernmental Working Group, and
  3. Collaborating Partners.

By bringing together this group of critical voices, we hope to create a plan that represents community-supported values and objectives. We want this plan to be carried forward to implementation. These three bodies will work together through a series of workshops and meetings.

The Equity Council is composed of:

  • community members, and
  • representatives from grassroots, community-based organizations living or working from or in historically excluded and marginalized communities.

Representatives are selected directly through a separate process.

The Intergovernmental Working Group (IWG) brings together leaders and staff from various City departments and agencies.

Collaborating Partners are made up of representatives from key partners and players, such as nonprofits and institutions. They also include engaged members of the general public.

The CAB performs a number of important functions critical to the planning process:

CAB members participate in a series of workshops and meetings. They help in identifying the key:

  • issues
  • challenges, and
  • opportunities facing Boston’s urban forest.

The CAB relays critical information from community members and groups. They provide input to ensure that the plan embodies community concerns, values, ambitions, and priorities.

CAB members review and comment on proposed strategies.

The CAB begins to build relationships between:

  • community leaders and public servants
  • across community organizations with overlapping missions, and
  • across government departments and agencies.

Establishing communication and understanding across silos and between the City and public will also be critical.

The CAB keeps community members and groups informed of:

  • the work being carried out as a part of the Urban Forest Plan, and
  • opportunities for public input.

The CAB participates as key partners for the implementation of the Urban Forest Plan. We know that a sustainable and healthy urban forest requires active community buy-in and support. CAB members will be critical to push forward the next steps that emerge from the planning process.

Please check out the main Urban Forest Plan project page under the heading "Community Advisory Board."

Collected questions

Collected questions

This project considers climate resilience and public health in a number of ways. The first is through the shared umbrella of the City’s Healthy Places initiative. This program looks to coordinate between:

  • this plan
  • the Heat Resilience Study and
  • the Open Space and Recreation Plan.

These plans will all (in varied ways) touch on:

  • the role of trees in mitigating the public health impact of threats (like extreme heat), and
  • various strategies towards improving resilience in Boston.

Second, the Urban Forest Plan will look to closely align with the work already underway through Climate Ready Boston.

Finally, the CAB includes representatives from:

  • community organizations
  • the Boston Public Health Commission, and
  • other City officials working on public health and climate resilience issues.

They bring their knowledge to the CAB workshops and meetings.

Equitable workforce development will be a key component of the recommendations coming out of this plan. But, we know that workforce development is a broad term. It can include discussions around:

  • what job sectors are involved in tree care
  • how to support the creation of those jobs
  • how to get people into those sectors
  • how to support training existing workers, and
  • much more.

We want to ensure that this conversation specifically responds to community needs and complements existing efforts. We're aiming to provide opportunities for community input on what equitable workforce development looks like. 

As part of this project, we'll be speaking with utilities to better understand what can be done to minimize removals. When it comes to the future of energy infrastructure — that's a great question! It's something to carry into these conversations.

We recognize that it takes a number of City departments and agencies to nurture the preservation and growth of Boston's urban forest. The participation of the Intergovernmental Working Group within the Community Advisory Board will be one step towards better coordination across City governance. 

We are currently completing the first public street tree inventory in over a decade. Ideally, tree inventories are then regularly maintained and updated over time to reflect current conditions. Determining best practices related to the tree inventory, however, will be part of the recommendations of the Urban Forest Plan. This includes looking at how to keep the tree inventory updated with current staffing constraints. 

For street trees, we are conducting a tree inventory. There are just over 40,000 trees on public streets in Boston.  We don't have information on the number of trees on private property (as we cannot conduct a tree inventory on private lands). So, we rely on satellite imagery to understand the dynamics of the canopy on those lands. We use this information rather than the more detailed information on individual trees.

Nevertheless, we know that strategies and policies that preserve and expand canopy on private land will be an important part of the outcomes of this plan. We only have partial data on park trees.

Boston's current data management software and accounting systems aren't complete enough for that kind of granular analysis. It’s a great question, and one that we hope can be answered in the future. The City would need a better way to track this information, and the staff to keep it updated and accurate. Having such a system and support staff will be a major recommendation in the plan.

However, we are working to be able to analyze existing 3-1-1 data. We can use this to analyze where services and types of service (planting / maintenance) have been provided.  In combination with demographic data, this will start to fill in some details on existing investment disparities.

An important detail here would be if we're talking about trees on private or public property. There are varying levels of control and data based on the property type.

If we're talking about public spaces, particularly street trees, then you can visit our website for a list of species currently planted in sidewalks. There are no existing mechanisms for mandating the planting of particular tree species on private property. The Urban Forest Plan will be looking at how to increase biodiversity.

There is no data on the number of private trees. There are also no regulations as to the number of trees planted on private property. Public street trees are planted by request. Both the specific species and sites are based on a variety of factors, including Complete Streets design guidelines.

Trees in parks are typically planted when the park is undergoing capital improvements. Capital improvements are funds for renovating parks that are included in the capital budget at the start of each fiscal year. A select number of parks are identified each year for capital improvements. There are currently no funds for planting trees in parks outside of these capital improvements. We will be looking at ways to enhance these programs and practices, where possible.

Yes! This is a citywide plan. Preserving trees is probably one of the most important things communities can do. This is especially true because mature trees provide exponentially more benefits than younger ones.

Looking at the various ways in which we can improve tree preservation will be a key part of the planning process and recommendations. 

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