Cleveland Commits $1 Million A Year To Revitalize Tree Canopy

trees and Cleveland skyline at Edgewater Park
The Cleveland skyline peeks out from between trees at Edgewater Park on Lake Erie. [Douglas Sacha / shutterstock]
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Updated: Oct. 17, 2019; 10:14 a.m.

The Forest City is looking to double down on its moniker with a 10-year, $10 million tree budget.

The City of Cleveland on Tuesday pledged to spend $1 million each year for the next 10 years on an effort to increase its tree coverage.

New trees would be planted on neighborhood tree lawns, in city-owned cemeteries and parks and on other publicly owned land, said Matt Gray, the city’s chief of sustainability.

"Cleveland is known as the Forest City. I will say we do not deserve that title right now," Gray said. "But that's a goal. How can we deserve the title of the Forest City once again?”

The city’s tree coverage — or canopy — has declined to 18 percent at present, Gray said, about half what it was 50 years ago. The reasons for the decline include tree blights and a lack of public investment in replacing dead or diseased trees, he said.

At present, the city's parks and recreation budget is devoted almost entirely to operations and maintenance, Gray said. The $1 million a year is the only major line item dedicated to new tree establishment.

City neighborhoods with the lowest tree coverage (including Collinwood, Goodrich-Kirtland Park and Downtown), as well as those with low per capita incomes, may be prioritized, in accordance with the 2015 Cleveland Tree Plan, Gray said. Planting more trees in high-poverty neighborhoods could improve mental health and asthma rates, according to the plan.

A 2015 analysis showed a wide range of tree coverage by neighborhood. [City of Cleveland, Cleveland Tree Plan]

Cities across the U.S. are seeking to increase their tree canopies as a growing body of research documents the benefits of urban trees, including their capacity to cool cities on hot summer days, reducing energy costs; intercepting storm water; and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Locally, the suburb of Lakewood is studying how to increase its tree canopy cover to 33.5 percent by 2035.

Gray said the tree plan could help Cleveland meet its goal of achieving 25 percent sustainable energy by 2030, and 100 percent sustainable energy by 2050, as laid out in its 2018 Climate Action Plan. Trees increase shade, which in turn decreases the need for air conditioning in summer.

But even with lower cooling costs, he said transportation patterns remain the city's biggest obstacle to meeting its sustainable energy goal.

"Our vehicles are more efficient generally, but we are driving more and we continue to drive alone," he said. "So how do we make it easy for people to maybe go from a two car household to a one car household or from one to zero?"

The city stood at about 13 percent sustainable energy usage in 2018, with a slight uptick expected for 2019, Gray said.

Mayor Frank Jackson announced the tree pledge at the Sustainable Cleveland Summit, an annual gathering organized by the city’s office of sustainability.

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