Under the scenic foliage of Franklin Park earlier this month, Mayor Michelle Wu announced a $11.4 million grant from the U.S. Forestry Service for the planting and maintaining of trees in Boston.
Federally, $1.5 billion was awarded to states and U.S. territories through the Inflation Reduction Act for Urban Forestry. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey led much of this initiative. According to him, “We shook the money trees, and we got green for green.”
Officials at the announcement highlighted both the benefits of tree cover and the importance of increasing the workforce in the green industry, which will help with the maintenance necessary to preserve these new spaces long term. Just a year ago, Boston only had two arborists responsible for over 40,000 street trees. Now, there is an entirely staffed Urban Forestry division that could deliver on Wu’s “Healthy Places” initiative and much more.
“There’s so much need for this kind of training and skill set, and when talent is ready to step into these jobs we can’t fill them fast enough,” said Wu.
Another new initiative is the Boston Tree Alliance, established in May of this year, which received more than $2.5 million alone for staffing, tree planting, grant-making and more. The grant will provide the organization with base funding for about five years. With a stated commitment to long term investment in heat-resilience solutions, the organization held their first meeting in September.
Zoe Davis is the climate resilience project manager for Boston, and now, the project manager for the BTA.
“Really the goal for the Tree Alliance is for this to be a democratized and equitable process. And so it’s really critical that the Alliance is able to define what it needs for itself,” Davis said.
With over 70 responses from organizations and individuals, the BTA aims to make funding available this winter to plant trees.
Other major pieces of the program are education and engagement. When asked about her hopes for the future of the BTA, Davis remarked, “The goal is for this program to reduce barriers to trees and the benefits of trees.”
Currently, more than 60% of Boston’s trees are on private land. Organizations like BTA and A Better City are working with the business community to increase tree canopy capacity on land not owned by the city. Public-private partnerships like these are necessary to better engage residents of environmental justice communities in pursuing tree canopy expansion.
The hot spot areas defined by the city —Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, East Boston and Chinatown — have been disproportionately affected by climate change issues.
At the same time of day, these neighborhoods can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than richer, whiter neighborhoods less than a mile away where you will find up to 10% more tree canopy.
This is not a mistake. According to Isabella Gambill, the assistant director of climate, energy and resilience at A Better City, “The location of our heat island, hot spot neighborhoods in Boston is not by accident, but is unfortunately by design as a result of redlining and legacies of disinvestment in our communities of color.”
Gambill describes heat as the silent killer. Many of these hot spot communities suffer from higher rates of cardiovascular disease, kidney problems and asthma, all of which can be exacerbated by heat. The city sees a 20% increase in EMS calls during heat emergencies, but still lacks data on heat deaths because hospitals are not classifying them as such.
Sen. Markey echoed this point, stating, “Extreme heat has been the deadliest symptom of climate change in this country to date, and frontline communities are feeling the burn without relief.”
Gambill created an important distinction. Tree care is long term work.
“Trees are important, they’re not a quick fix. It really depends on making sure that they reach maturity, and if we can, that we plant clusters of mature and native trees,” Gambill stated.
The addition of forest canopy will not only lower temperatures, but reduce flooding, decrease noise and air pollution, provide natural resources, and generate jobs in tree care work. Thus, having the staffing for the planting and maintenance of these trees will be important for preserving this long-term project. PowerCorp, a city job program providing young people with training in the green industry, is an example of that work. They received around $2.6 million of the grant alone.
Nakeda Strothers, 31, is in his third 6-month course with PowerCorps, now serving as assistant crew leader. A Roxbury native, Strothers was inspired to create change in his hometown.
“I’m doing something for the community, I’m giving back. And it’s just about expanding your knowledge,” said Strothers. He continued, “I would volunteer in this work any day.”