Build on work of citywide and Oakland non-profits as well as institutions to create a cohesive neighborhood-wide tree canopy strategy that recognizes trees as vital and cost-effective infrastructure. Includes preservation of existing trees, funding and planting of new trees, and maintenance of trees along streets, on private property, and in open spaces.
- Tree canopy has been lost throughout Oakland through a number of processes: existing residents removing from yards and street tree pits due to maintenance concerns, property owners paving over areas to rent out as parking, multi-family property owners removing street trees to avoid maintenance, and developers removing all trees prior to projects in order to create a blank slate for new buildings which are typically required to replace the trees.
- Replacement of trees often does not happen and instead funds are paid into the City’s Shade Tree Trust Fund. Where it does happen, mature trees are often replaced with smaller trees that have less canopy and habitat value.
- Recent Institutional Master Plans have set tree canopy retention and expansion goals. In the case of the University of Pittsburgh, the university’s Sustainability Plan has higher tree canopy targets than the IMP could accommodate on university-owned property resulting in the need for tree canopy banking and the potential that university plantings could take place in streets and other areas off-campus.
- Enforcement of street tree requirements has been ineffective at stemming the loss of these trees, particularly in places like Central Oakland where there are the fewest trees, the highest demand for space, and the largest number of landlords.
- The loss of tree canopy has many health impacts leading to heat island effect, reduced air quality, people experiencing higher temperatures, greater demand for AC systems, and reduction in the neighborhood’s capacity to clean air and rainwater. The lack of shade, high heat, and poor air quality also make walking and biking less enjoyable during summer months.
- The Equity Technical Advisory Group also noted that areas that are lacking in tree canopy often overlay with areas with more diverse residents, marginalized communities, and with stormwater problems. Adding tree canopy to these areas, then, will help to overcome inequities. The group also noted that trees have been shown to have positive mental health impacts, that having trees at gateways to the community should be a priority, and that deciduous trees should be favored to avoid having trees provide shade during winter months when sunlight is limited.
- Prioritize tree preservation over replacement. This could be done through new requirements in the Zoning Code, new City review processes to create a public process around tree removal, better enforcement of existing requirements, and programs that regularly survey trees and identify when trees have been removed.
- Update landscaping requirements in the Zoning Code to establish a clearer process for this kind of review. This must come with increased staff capacity to undertake more thorough reviews as part of the development review process. These reviews should consider understory plantings in addition to trees. This work complements changes proposed to the Zoning Code that would require developers to consider the embodied carbon of their projects including how removal of existing trees on a parcel would negatively impact the carbon balance of the project.
- Work with the City’s Tree Utility Coordinator, Duquesne Light Company, data service providers, and other utilities to reduce the occurrence of contractors cutting down trees. Any tree removal should be clearly communicated to the property owners and City of Pittsburgh Urban Forester in advance of the work happening.
- Establish a set of policies in the Oakland Plan that pertain to tree canopy in the streets, on private property, and on public parks and can be used during project review by the City and by community organizations. This builds on the work of the institutions who have been incorporating tree retention into decision-making processes as part of their IMPs.
- Seek all opportunities to underground electric and data utilities to remove conflicts with trees and improve resilience of Oakland’s infrastructure. This is particularly important with large-scale development. Consider the relationship between the need to upgrade electrical infrastructure as buildings move toward full electrification (i.e., electric heating and cooling as opposed to natural gas) and how this can be coupled with undergrounding efforts to achieve multiple benefits. This should be incorporated into assumptions as part of the Oakland Energy Master Plan.
- Work with older property owners to replace lawns with native plantings, potentially including shade trees. Start with the list of Oakland homeowners who utilize the City Cuts senior lawn-cutting program.
- This work is related to the strategy that seeks to use the Oakland Plan’s survey of impervious areas to target areas where yards have been paved and proactively work to de-pave them in conjunction with other initiatives such as the new Stormwater Fee.
- Address the issue of LLCs and absent landlords who have been difficult to work with in the past. Formal City notices or action may provide a better avenue to engage them. This may be easier due to the Rental Registry.
- Work with the universities to manage street trees on the series of Green Streets in Central Oakland to ensure that they retain healthy canopy over time without putting undue burden on property owners. This should include students receiving Tree Tender Training from TreePGH and participating in plantings and other initiatives.
- Consider measuring and using tree canopy as the metric for success instead of trunk caliper or tree counts.
- Assess and strategically replace invasive trees that were planted in the past. Ensure that a large variety of trees are planted moving forward to avoid collapse issues associated with a dependency on a small number of species.
- This work should help link together a number of recent and forthcoming initiatives including institutional IMPs which are inventorying trees on-campus and proposing tre planting targets, consultants who will conduct a citywide street tree inventory for DPW’s Forestry Division, TreePGH is seeking funds to conduct a ReLeaf Plan for Oakland, and a Significant Tree Registry will soon catalogue and seek to protect mature trees on public property.
- The map on page 161 of the Oakland Plan Existing Conditions Report should be used by all future efforts as an indicator of where trees are most needed. It clearly shows where low tree canopy and heat island are co-located.
When to start: 0-2 years
Estimated costs: $$ (out of $$$$)
Project lead(s): TreePGH, DCP
Project partner(s): WPC, DPW, OPDC, OBID, institutions, DLC
Potential funding source(s): TreePGH, WPC, City of Pittsburgh