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Trees in the path of public housing in Charlestown: ‘false choice’ or real trade-off?

There has been a call to save some 250 mature trees slated to be cut down to make way for the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill public housing development in Charlestown.
There has been a call to save some 250 mature trees slated to be cut down to make way for the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill public housing development in Charlestown.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Environmental activists don’t speak for complex’s residents

In light of David Abel’s article “To some, trees a balm; to others, a barrier to progress” (Page A1, March 8), we would like to clarify the facts about tree preservation and the impact it has on our lives.

As the elected local tenant organization, the Charlestown Resident Alliance represents the 2,500 residents of the Bunker Hill public housing complex. We have fought to ensure that the plan for Phase 1 of the replacement of the complex retains as many mature trees as possible. When complete, the entire project will double the number of existing trees on site. The new buildings will also improve the poor indoor air quality that causes our residents to suffer disproportionately high levels of asthma and other respiratory issues.


Although the recent efforts regarding tree preservation may be well intentioned, they are misguided. These activists do not speak for us — the residents — nor have they asked about our priorities. We don’t need to be lectured on environmental injustice or inequities; we live them every day.

We can understand why some in the community believe it is a “false choice” to have to choose between replacing what Abel describes as the “crumbling, infested warren of brick buildings” we call home and preserving mature trees in our neighborhood. However, sometimes in life there are real trade-offs, not just perceived ones. The Charlestown Resident Alliance has been at the table for more than four years and is acutely familiar with the complex details and challenges of this project. No one is more able to make those choices than the directly affected residents who will call Bunker Hill home during its demolition and redevelopment.

At present, more than 100 families have been displaced from their homes in preparation for Phase 1. These Bunker Hill families are waiting to return, and delay is a luxury they cannot afford. Delay also hurts the families who live here now, in homes that have decayed beyond repair.


The Bunker Hill Redevelopment Phase 1 is a well-designed project that has been crafted with the residents at the table. While our voices may not always be the loudest, it’s time for the community to listen.

Nancy Martinez


Charlestown Resident Alliance

This project is what environmental injustice looks like

Tenants in Charlestown public housing need new apartments. Rats, mold, asbestos, and extreme heat and cold are degrading their lives and harming their lungs. Happily, a developer is going to replace their apartments with new mixed-income housing. But there’s a hitch: 250 mature trees have to go.

The trees are cleaning the air the tenants breathe, softening summer heat waves, and absorbing flood water. They’ll be cut down so that the developer can make enough money. That will leave the tenants and their homes more vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather. Meanwhile, the institutions responsible for the tenants’ substandard buildings and their lack of housing choice — federal abandonment of public housing, the private housing industry, and its profit margins — will stay.

This is called environmental injustice. The tenants have to choose between better housing and an environment that will withstand climate change. Private housing developers and financiers, wherever they live, don’t have to make that choice.

Mike Prokosch