Tree planting as decentralized environmental policy

Authors: Deborah Martin*, Clark University, Nicholas Geron, Clark University, John Rogan, Clark University
Topics: Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Land Use
Keywords: tree planting, urban governance, Massachusetts, climate change policy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


With climate change forecasts warning of worsening urban heat island effects, many North American cities are pursuing tree planting as part of their climate mitigation strategies. As an environmental policy, tree planting is very decentralized, particularly in terms of ongoing stewardship, which is essential for tree growth and long-term climate impacts. Tree health and longevity, and thus, successful implementation of tree planting as a mitigation policy, are subject to vagaries of individual landowner actions and decision-making. Scholarship has well documented that while urban residents in targeted tree planting neighborhoods may be the recipients of trees, they also are key actors in any tree planting policy. Less is known about the opportunities for new configurations of environmental policy governance that draw upon residents as policy actors. In Massachusetts’ Greening the Gateway Cities Program (GGCP), cities and the state work together to try to create community investment in tree planting, through civil society actors that promote tree stewardship and sustained engagement with residents. This paper explores the gaps between policy rollout and implementation by examining how cities’ governance networks influence tree health, as well as resident perspectives as actors engaged in environmental policy. We find that the success of decentralized environmental policy like tree planting varies between cities due to the creation of new planting and stewardship networks that build upon, but also extend, the existing urban governance matrix. We explore how such decentralized and devolved policies empower select citizens and local levels of government, even while imposing significant policy responsibilities.

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