PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia today launched its first ever urban forest strategic planning process. In support of citywide equity and sustainability goals, the plan will establish a 10-year strategy to grow, protect, and care for Philadelphia’s tree canopy, and set forth new ways of working with residents to combat climate change. The plan, titled “The Future of the Urban Forest,” will provide recommendations to the City and its partners on how to best coordinate and strengthen their work on tree planting and maintenance, and what role policy can play to support a more tree-friendly culture across the city.
“The launch of the Future of the Urban Forest planning process is an opportunity to accelerate efforts from across Philadelphia to protect our tree canopy and improve quality of life and health outcomes for residents,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Creating a safe, sustainable and enjoyable place to live is a priority of our administration, and I am confident this process will deliver a plan that promotes new ways to increase tree canopy to benefit the health and sustainability of all neighborhoods and for all Philadelphians.”
The planning process began today with a citywide Tree Summit: a meeting of 100 of Philadelphia’s leading arborists, environmental educators, and community leaders organized by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the City’s Office of Sustainability at the Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park.
“Trees are a fundamental element of healthy, safe, and thriving communities,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “We see our role as educating and informing residents about the benefits of trees, as well as creating more opportunities to plant new trees and bring resources to parts of the city historically lacking the benefits of trees.”
In 2009, the City’s Greenworks initiative set a goal of 30 percent tree canopy in every Philadelphia neighborhood. Since then, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the Office of Sustainability have been working to secure funding and build partnerships for additional tree plantings in parks, on streets, and in residential yards. With the support of sponsor TD Bank, and in partnership with Fairmount Park Conservancy, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s TreePhilly program offers free trees for people to plant in their yards, and has given away over 24,000 trees since 2012. While these efforts are having an impact, more can be done.
“We are turning a corner in how Philadelphians think about trees and their role in a happy, healthy urban life,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Community Forestry Manager Erica Smith Fichman. “Equity has been a driving priority of the TreePhilly Program since it was founded in 2012. The strategic plan will take this same approach and deepen the impact we have already seen in communities around Philadelphia.”
The 10-year Future of the Urban Forest plan will be informed by the 2019 Philadelphia Tree Canopy Assessment, research commissioned by the City to map Philadelphia’s current tree cover. In the 10 years since the City’s first comprehensive tree canopy assessment was completed, pockets of the city have seen improved canopy. However, a loss of trees on residential land and a decrease in trees along streets have seen Philadelphia’s overall tree canopy decrease by 6 percent between 2008 and 2018.
Programs like TreePhilly and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders have been critical to galvanizing volunteers and residents and preventing further canopy loss. Because it takes years for young trees to grow into canopy, the focused efforts on new plantings over the last decade have yet to show up in the data in many places. Identifying ways to strengthen these planting efforts and minimize future loss of canopy will be a main focus of the strategic plan.
The first step in developing the Future of the Urban Forest plan is to issue a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) to find an expert to lead the planning process. The selection will be made by a project team comprised of representatives from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Philadelphia Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Fairmount Park Conservancy, US Forest Service, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Morris Arboretum, and Penn State University.
The process to create Philadelphia’s first urban forest strategic plan is expected to take 12 to 18 months. The plan is funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, with additional support from TD Bank.
A series of public meetings will be held to gather input from stakeholders, community groups, and residents. Residents and media can join a mailing list to learn details as they are released in the coming months.
Visit phila.gov/parksandrec for urban forest strategic plan updates.