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Cleveland is shifting its tree plan to consider health and racial equity

Douglas Sacha
The Cleveland skyline peeks out from between trees at Edgewater Park on Lake Erie.

The city of Cleveland is shifting its tree planting policy to address issues of equity. The new method will prioritize factors such as health concerns and economic opportunities when deciding where to plant new trees.

Historically, the city has used restoration of the tree canopy as the primary consideration for deciding where trees should go, said Cleveland Chief of Sustainability Jason Wood. But planting more trees can provide other advantages for an area, Wood said, and the new plan is an attempt to examine those opportunities through a lens of racial equity.

“We know that trees are really valuable community assets, and they can help us solve a lot of different community-focused problems,” Wood said. “Trying to identify and leverage our tree plantings is a way to kind of create some policy interventions to address some of those issues, as well.”

The city will continue to evaluate tree canopy loss in determining where to put new saplings, Wood said. But they’ll also look at which areas need relief from health issues such as asthma and coronary heart disease, he said, which trees can help to alleviate.

“Let’s identify where we have higher prevalence of those negative health outcomes, and let’s see if we can build that in to help us shape where our tree planting should be,” Wood said.

Other considerations include urban heat islands, basement flooding and economic concerns, Wood said. The demographics of different areas also will be considered, as well as prevalence of air pollution and ozone.

“Trees always come up as a policy intervention because they have such a strong effect. They can do so much good in so many different ways,” Wood said. “The reason we wanted to take this approach is to make sure that as we kind of implement this very important and critical intervention, we’re able to do it in the most equitable fashion.”

The city plans to make data on these factors available to partners working on improving the tree canopy in Cleveland. Wood says that will help address the need for more trees beyond what the city can do on its own.

The city plants trees twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Most of the decisions for where to plant trees in the spring has already been developed, Wood said, but the new considerations will inform the process for fall of next year.

“From a day to day planning standpoint, residents won’t necessarily see a huge change in the way that the urban forestry department is out there doing their work,” Wood said. “But it may shape a little bit on where that tree goes on the front end.”

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