City grapples with equity in its tree canopy

City councilors, acknowledging Boston has fallen dramatically short of its goal of planting 100,000 trees by 2020, discussed Monday the need for additional funding to keep trees alive and add new ones to streets and parks.

At the hearing, Councilor Ayanna Pressley also stressed the importance of tree equity across its neighborhoods, underscoring how trees should be available to everyone in the city, not just certain neighborhoods where planting has been prioritized.

“We need to continue to fight to make sure it’s reflected in the . . . budget so that we have the staffing resources necessary to ensure preserving tree health, to ensure we’re keeping pace with our planting goals in order to achieve equity in tree canopies,” Pressley said in an interview after the hearing.


Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s former mayor, pledged a decade ago to expand the city’s tree canopy by 20 percent, or about 100,000 trees. But the city has planted fewer than 10,000 street trees since 2007, and it removed nearly 6,000 in that time period.

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The last time the city performed a flyover to evaluate Boston’s tree canopy — the total leaves and branches in the city — there was 27 percent coverage. That 2017 report found that a further 41 percent of land in Boston could be modified to accommodate the tree canopy.

Community activists and city officials at the hearing pointed to the ecological benefits of trees, including producing fresh air and controlling water runoff after storms. Trees, they said, are not distributed evenly across the city.

East Boston has only 7 percent tree coverage, the lowest in the city. Mattapan and Hyde Park have a greater tree canopy — both over 30 percent, according to the city’s 2017 report. But even those numbers can be deceiving, Pressley said, because Mattapan gets much of its canopy from parks, and has relatively few street trees.

Steven Kendall, a deputy tree warden for the city, said in many neighborhoods people work long hours and cannot volunteer to take care of their trees, contributing to inequity across the city. He called on the city to push developers and companies to support tree-growing efforts to make up for this.


Chris Cook, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation, said one of the greatest challenges tree planters face is tree mortality, often the product of human error like backing into trees and gas leaks, and the difficulty of ensuring trees receive proper care.

Elizabeth Vizza, executive director for Friends of the Public Garden, pointed to the city’s current budget allocating $100,000 to maintain trees in parks, the first year it has done so. But, she said, this amount is “a drop in the bucket.”

Jamie Halper can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.