Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Street Trees and Urban Renewal: A Baltimore Case Study

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Street Trees and Urban Renewal: A Baltimore Case Study

Article excerpt


Over the past century and a half, city governments, civic organizations, and neighborhood associations have invested considerable time and energy building and maintaining parks, gardens, and playgrounds. Although support for these amenities has waxed and waned over the years, they remain prominent features of the urban landscape. Acknowledging that cities function as ecosystems, municipalities across the country have renewed their interest in developing "green infrastructure" (Spirn 1984; Botkin and Beveridge 1997; Grove and Burch 1997; Pickett et al. 2001; Grove 2008). Recent events in Baltimore are illustrative of the current trend. In March 2006, city officials announced their intention to double Baltimore's tree canopy over die next 30 years. According to Robin Morgan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, "Baltimore is setting a national standard" with its aggressive tree planting initiative (Palazzolo 2006).

Baltimore is investing in trees because of die multiple benefits trees provide urban residents. As resource managers know only too well, however, getting trees to grow and survive in an urban environment is no easy task Similarly, residents have not always been supportive of tree-planting efforts. Despite a forestry program that dates to the early twentieth century, Baltimore's tree canopy has been shrinking for many years. At present, the tree canopy covers just 20% of the city - considerably lower than the nationwide average of 33% for cities. Given these conditions, one cannot help but wonder how city officials expect to meet their ambitious target. As the city's draft Urban Forest Management Plan makes clear, the success of the program depends heavily on the support and participation of local citizens. Indeed, the "entire civic community will be needed" to ensure success (Brosìus et al. 2006, 6, 28).

As city officials move to implement their plan, they would do well to take note of how one Baltimore neighborhood in particular has managed its trees. Located northwest of the downtown core, Bolton Hill today is known for its historic buildings, common spaces, pocket parks, and tree-lined boulevards. (Fig. 1) Fifty years ago, however, Bolton Hill was suffering from neglect and decay. An infusion of federal "urban renewal" monies and die emergence of community-based forestry helped to revive this once moribund neighborhood and instill in its residents an enduring appreciation for street trees. Unlike other neighborhoods in Baltimore, some of which are nearly devoid of trees, Bolton Hill's slice of the urban forest is thriving.

In this article we use historical newspapers and other archival sources, city government documents, neighborhood indicator databases, and interviews with residents, city resource managers, and local politicians to account for why Bolton Hill's forest resources prospered during a period when other parts of the city were experiencing tree loss. We also explore why Bolton Hill residents embraced tree-planting and maintenance activities when elsewhere citizens were either indifferent or openly resistant to such efforts. Examining street-tree maintenance practices in Bolton Hill offers an important narrative for understanding past processes and the legacies of past actions. It may also serve as a model that resource managers can use - and replicate - as they develop strategies for expanding the city's tree canopy.


The critical role trees play in maintaining healthy urban ecosystems is well documented. Trees filter pollutants, store and sequester carbon dioxide, reduce runoff rates and flooding, impede erosion, improve storm sewer capacity, provide habitat for wildlife, and moderate the urban heat island effect (Nowak 1993; Botkin and Beveridge 1997; Dwyer et al. 2000; Crompton 2001; Nowak et al. 2001; Nowak and Crane 2002; Nowak, Crane, and Dwyer 2002; Sather, Macie, and Marteli 2004; USDA Forest Service 2006). …

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