Boston, renowned for its historical significance and diverse neighborhoods, is taking proactive steps to preserve and enrich its urban tree canopy. City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Liz Breadon are championing an innovative ordinance to establish comprehensive protections for Boston’s tree canopy. The proposed ordinance aims to counter the adverse effects of urbanization, such as heat islands, flooding, and air pollution, while prioritizing the well-being of all communities. This article delves into the key aspects of the proposed ordinance and its potential impact on Boston’s environmental and social landscape.

Understanding the Tree Canopy Assessment

In September 2020, the City of Boston conducted a thorough Tree Canopy Assessment, analyzing tree cover changes from 2014 to 2019. The assessment revealed that approximately 27% of Boston’s land area is graced by trees, with Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and West Roxbury showcasing higher concentrations of tree canopy. However, it also raised concerns about significant tree losses in southern and eastern neighborhoods, particularly Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan, and West Roxbury. Additionally, the report highlighted substantial tree canopy reduction on residential land.

The Importance of Preserving the Tree Canopy

The proposed ordinance is a proactive measure to safeguard and replenish the city’s tree canopy, combatting adverse environmental impacts. Urban trees play a pivotal role in mitigating the heat island effect, reducing flood risks, and countering air pollution. In light of the two heatwaves experienced in 2021, including a record high temperature of 100 degrees in June, it is evident that preserving the urban tree canopy is vital for Boston’s climate resilience and environmental well-being.

Addressing Environmental Equity

The proposed ordinance acknowledges the disproportionate impact of negative environmental effects on certain communities, such as those with high concentrations of Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, immigrant, and low-income residents. By prioritizing tree canopy protection and planting in these areas, the ordinance seeks to enhance health and quality of life for all residents, bridging the gap in environmental equity.

Key Provisions of the Proposed Ordinance

The ordinance encompasses several essential provisions to achieve its objectives:

  1. Definition of Terms: The ordinance provides clear definitions of terms like “Caliper,” “City Tree,” “Diameter at Breast Height (DBH),” “Invasive Plant,” “Park Project,” “Private Tree,” “Public Shade Tree,” “Tree Removal,” “Replacement Caliper,” and “Significant Tree” for precise understanding.
  2. Role of the Tree Warden: The ordinance designates the Tree Warden, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council, to oversee tree management on city-owned property and public rights-of-way. The Tree Warden’s responsibilities include granting permits, conducting public hearings, and enforcing the ordinance.
  3. Senior Urban Forestry and Landscape Planner: The ordinance introduces the Senior Urban Forestry and Landscape Planner, a Certified Arborist, responsible for seeking grants, developing policies, supervising tree planting, and supporting the Tree Warden.
  4. Urban Forestry Committee: Comprising city officials and public members, the Urban Forestry Committee advises on tree management, reviews planting policies, and engages in public education and outreach.
  5. Criteria for Removal of Public Shade Trees: The ordinance establishes criteria for removing Public Shade Trees, requiring a public hearing and written justification based on public health, safety, or welfare reasons.
  6. Notice Requirements for Removal of Public Shade Trees: The ordinance outlines transparent notice requirements for public hearings related to the removal of Public Shade Trees.
  7. Tree Replacement for Public Shade Trees: Property owners must replace any healthy Public Shade Tree removed with new trees within one year, adhering to specified standards.
  8. Street Tree Stabilization Fund: A dedicated fund will be set up to cover tree-related expenses like planting and maintenance, with contributions made by requesting parties under specific circumstances.
  9. Compliance with State Law: The ordinance ensures compliance with applicable state laws concerning public shade trees.
  10. Criteria for Removal of City Trees: Focusing solely on City Trees, this section establishes requirements for tree removal, with exceptions for emergencies, and penalties for violations.


The proposed ordinance represents a significant stride in safeguarding and enriching Boston’s urban tree canopy. By prioritizing community well-being and environmental sustainability, the City of Boston is poised to create a greener and more resilient future. As the ordinance progresses, it holds the promise of fostering a strong sense of community and sustainable environmental practices, benefiting generations to come.

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