Monday, July 25, 2011

QUESTION: Why is the City Paving over Tree Sites? ANSWER: It's Actually Part of a Plan to Plant 2,000 New Trees

RESIDENT QUESTION: Lately I have noticed that a lot of trees have been removed across the city and sidewalks paved over. There are quite a few stretches on Highland Ave. with no trees for several blocks.

On our street, two trees have been removed and no new trees planted. The city told us that we actually had to formally request for the tree to be planted, otherwise the city doesn't. ... Once we learned that you actually have to request for the tree to be planted, we contacted the city and not only the spot has been paved over, we have not heard anything back.

Somerville has quite a few initiatives for "greener city" including the new Facebook page, but doesn't seem to have a sound policy for keeping the streets green. Where can I find a formal policy? Most of the affluent cities around have a lot of trees -- Cambridge, Belmont just to name a few nearby. Could we mimic their policies?

ANSWER: Thanks for asking about trees in the city. This is an issue that the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen care deeply about and are addressing on several fronts. It's true that residents are encouraged to request trees, but the City also independently plants new trees and replaces sick trees as well. In fact, the City recently introduced an ambitious plan to increase Somerville’s tree canopy by 20 percent over the next five years.

In 2009, the Somerville Urban Forest Initiative conducted a complete tree inventory of the city (accessible to the public here), finding 11,062 public trees. In 2010, work began to replace roughly 850 sick or dead trees. In 2011, the City then launched an effort to plant 2,000 new public trees by the end of 2015. In spring 2011, approximately 220 new trees were planted and we expect to plant a total of 400 by the end of the year. Some $75,000 in annual federal funds as well as City funding supports the program.

So while residents may request trees, the City also actively seeks public sites on main thoroughfares, in parks, and in public squares--as well as side streets with low tree inventories--and plants trees on those sites.

As part of the Urban Forest Initiative, City staff have also undergone retraining in tree care, and community outreach efforts have sought to engage citizens in requesting and caring for trees. In addition, in 2009, a Tree Advisory Committee was created (currently it is being reorganized) and a Tree Preservation Ordinance was enacted.

Paved Tree Sites are Just Temporary
As for the trees on your street and Highland Ave. It’s likely these trees were removed outside of planting season. For an urban tree to have the best chance of survival, it needs to be planted in early spring or late fall. So, when a diseased tree is removed out of season by the City, the remaining gap is temporarily paved over for public safety reasons. When planting season arrives, we will redig a site for the tree and replace it.

If this is the case, the sites you mention should automatically be slated for replanting, but come early fall, please feel free to call 311 and offer a reminder. Please note, however, that occasionally, some trees are removed for structural reasons, such as issues with pipes or wiring. These tree sites are generally not replanted. If planting season passed without these trees being replaced, please contact me and I will investigate further:

Here are more ways to help bring trees to the city:

Request a Tree on Your Street: Residents may call 311 to request a tree. To request a tree, you must own the property next to the sidewalk where the tree will be planted. When you make the request, please ask for your work order number. You may use this number to call and check up on your request.

Request a Tree for Public Space: While the City generally returns to replace removed diseased trees in public areas, a nudge from residents can’t hurt. Please call 311 if you notice a missing public tree to request it be replaced or to request a new tree on a new public site.

Adopt a Tree: Adopt a public tree. Volunteer to maintain a tree. Contact 311 for information about tree-maintenance practices.

Get involved: Many groups in Somerville are dedicated to preserving and expanding green space. Groundwork Somerville maintains a list of local groups and activities. Visit Groundwork at:


Number of public trees: 11,062
Distribution of trees: 9,230 are street trees, 2,112 are in parks/public spaces, 30 are in “borderline right-of-ways”
Number of public and private trees: 30,000-50,000
Cost to plant a City tree: approximately $250 to $650
Total value of Somerville’s inventoried public trees: $15.9 million
Average value per public tree: $1,437.68
Variety of trees: Somerville’s tree population comprises 101 species representing 52 genera. The most common trees in Somerville are maples (32%), pears (14%), honeylocust (9%) and linden (8%).

To take a look at the city’s tree inventory, click here:


  1. It doesn't seem fair that only property owners are allowed to make requests for trees. It actually seems pretty classist.

  2. There are so many renters in Somerville! It's a shame that they don't also have a right to request trees! Don't you agree?

    I also am saddened that there are no still no laws in place to stop landlords/homeowners from chopping down healthy trees in their very own backyards --especially if they are in public view. I think sidewalk trees are great, but I sometimes worry that someday, the only trees in the world will be those that line the streets.

    I am, however, glad that there is a green initiative starting in Somerville. Go Green Somerville!

  3. Renters have several options for requesting trees: 1) Request that your landlord request a tree for in front of your rental property. 2) Reach out to neighbors to let them know they can request trees for in front of their property. 3) Request trees for sites that are either not directly in front of a home or that are in public spaces. 4) Contact our City Green Infrastructure Planner, Rachel Kelly to let her know that your street needs trees (and the city will then reach out to homeowners for you).

    Whether renter or homeowner, the City does not allow others to request trees that are directly in front of someone else's home. It's a rule that applies to all equally.

  4. What is the policy for maintaining new tree plantings? Does any supplemental watering occur? I see several new trees along Somerville Ave that are dead or in very poor condition. It seems like a waste of money if these new trees are not cared for.

  5. I agree with Anonymous that it would be great to protect the green environment by registering all trees above a certain size, requiring a permit or some consideration of the matter before healthy trees can be cut down. Homeowners often kill trees for no good reason, and the neighborhood loses, birds and bees lose... these homeowners don't replace the trees. I know there are communities where this kind of ordinance is in place.

  6. Although trees are beautiful, I believe there are so many more important things that our federal & city funds can be used for. Seriously, are 2000 more trees so important that we need to use federal grants for them. I don't understand this. There were so many city employees laid off, but we sure have beautiful trees & still counting. I love the look of the trees all over the streets, but not in this economy do we need to spend so much money on them. I just don't get the urgency. Use the money to fix the sidewalks lifted up by the beautiful trees. I'm begging city hall to justify the use of any city money on trees when there is so much more needed here.

  7. Hi Patty, Thanks for your comment. Here's a reply from our Green Infrastructure Planner, Rachel Kelly: "We get specific CDBG [federal grant] money just for this tree program. We are not allowed to use that allocated money elsewhere, it is specifically for urban forestry. HUD [Housing and Urban Development] and the CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] programs have made this decision for us.

    There are other CDBG funds used for other unrelated projects such as housing, citywide improvements, resident programs.

    We plant trees now because we will need them in the future for a long list of reasons. Air quality, quality of life, stormwater management, shade, sound and visual barriers, increased property value, etc. The economy is not always going to be bad. We need to plan now or living in Somerville in the future is going to be an unhealthy and ugly place to be without these trees and green areas."

    Also, to clarify the layoff issue. Somerville actually had very few layoffs this year. We laid off only three employees and that was due to decreased demand for their services. All three were Parking Control Officers, and due to increased compliance, we are writing fewer tickets citywide. Of course any layoff, even one, is a serious matter not taken lightly, but in Somerville we are fortunate that this year we have not had to make the many difficult choices other cities have had to make. Your concerns for other City issues are understandable, and the City shares them. We are working hard to both address other needs as well as ensure that we reap the benefits of greenery--and if the designated federal funds we get for trees helps keeps Somerville workers employed, all the better.


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