Cities go hi-tech to shade their streets

Boston's 29% urban tree canopy cover, as determined by the FOS survey, is already above most of its East Coast neighbors. New York City has a 24% cover while Baltimore has only 20%. Annapolis, however, boasts a 41% cover. If Boston's $15 million tree campaign goes according to plan, the trees will be in the ground by 2020 and expected to increase canopy cover to 35% by 2030, says Sherri Brokopp, sustainable cities program director of the Urban Ecology Institute. The city has just $3.5 million committed in funding but is seeking additional commitments from the private sector, says Jim Hunt, Boston's chief of environment and energy.

The societal benefits of trees

According to city and environmental officials, the $15 million spent on trees is expected to have social benefits as well. Trees are touted as miracle workers for city problems. Boston officials cite studies claiming that trees reduce energy costs, ease stress, and lower crime rates. Increased vegetation is also credited for decreases in aggressive street behavior, boosts in neighborhood pride, and more people spending more time outside, which serves as increased outdoor surveillance.

Boston is even using the FOS system for a venture into "environmental justice," in other words, equal opportunity trees.

"The question is, does everyone, in terms of race and income, have similar levels of canopy cover in their neighborhoods?" Mr. Hunt says. According to Boston's tree inventory statistics, the crowded and poorer East Boston neighborhood has only 6% canopy cover in comparison to the wealthier West Roxbury's 49%.

Several Boston environmental organizations are already stepping up their efforts. On this typical Thursday in early July, members of EarthWorks and JP (Jamaica Plain) Trees plant trees in various yards in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. EarthWorks is a member of Boston's urban forest coalition and reports all tree plantings to the Urban Ecology Institute.

Matt Walter, a certified arborist and EarthWorks volunteer, is planting a kousa dogwood in the yard of Jamaica Plain resident David Baron.

"They've given me a lot more guidance than I would have gotten just from walking into some nursery," says Mr. Baron as Mr. Walter explains how often he should water the dogwood. "I really wanted to get a tree, and I heard this program was free."

On this same afternoon, Walter examines a black tupelo tree planted two weeks ago. Upon examining the tree and its dried brown leaves, Walter unearths it and pointedly says, "Some trees make it. Some trees don't."

He soon determines the tree grew a double trunk flare, likely caused from repotting in the nursery. The double flare caused a water shortage to the deep roots, he says, and promises the homeowner a new tree will be on its way.

Challenges for city trees

Tom Ward, Dana Greenhouse manager at the Arnold Arboretum, says root damage is a common cause for city tree deaths. Once a tree is unearthed and replanted, as is typical in the greenhouse transferring process, it loses 90% of its roots and needs time to recover. Overeager lawn mowers can sometimes disrupt newly planted trees and permanently derail its growth.

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