City plans for greener future

Goal is to double tree canopy in 30 years, improving environment, property values


The image of the big city is typically of a hard, gray and unforgiving landscape. But that soon might change.

Concrete is out. The urban forest is in.

Baltimore parks and planning officials are to announce plans today to make Baltimore's appearance softer, greener and more pleasant by doubling the city's tree canopy - the total area covered by leaves - in the next 30 years.

More trees in Baltimore could mean lower energy costs, higher property values and many environmental perks, including cleaner water and air, according to local, state and federal forestry officials.

Across Maryland, municipalities are reverting to pastoral layouts after decades of blacktop school yards and concrete plazas.

"Baltimore is setting a national standard," said Robin Morgan, assistant director of forest management for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

On average, trees cover about 23 percent of the land in American cities, according to the forest service. Baltimore's tree canopy shades about 20 percent, based on satellite photos taken in 2001. The Baltimore Forestry Division, which is part of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, maintains about 500,000 trees - a little more than two trees for every three Baltimoreans - planted throughout 5,700 acres of parkland, public space and along streets.

Gary Letteron, an environmental planner for the city's planning department, said that doubling the canopy is "ambitious, but doable," as long as private property owners do their part.

"We cannot add 20 percent tree coverage without some of it going on private property," Letteron said. "It's going to have to go on people's front yards, on their backyards, and on businesses and industry."

Officials could not estimate how much of the canopy will be cultivated on private property versus public land, but Rebecca Feldberg, the city arborist, assured that it would be "a large percentage."

The program would be voluntary. "It's all about providing incentives to plant the trees," Feldberg said."

Forest plan

With $83,000 from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the city's forestry division will produce an urban forest management plan with input from local, state and federal agencies, along with city residents and businesses, Feldberg said.

The plan will include strategies for expanding and maintaining the canopy, incentives for growing it on private properties and educational programs for citizens on tree care, Feldberg said.

"This is basically the initial statement that has to be made in order to jump-start all these programs," Feldberg said.

USDA study

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that the city's canopy, beyond its aesthetic value, saves Baltimoreans $3.3 million a year in energy costs by acting as a basin for storm waters, a bulwark against wind and a shade umbrella. Trees also cool the air around them through the evaporation of water from their leaves.

Another forest service study found that houses in neighborhoods with trees have higher property values than those in neighborhoods without.

Baltimore's trees remove about 10,800 metric tons of carbon from the air and water annually, according to the study.

Baltimore's urban forest management plan is an offshoot of a directive signed by the Chesapeake Executive Council in 2003 that included creating tree canopy goals. Feldberg said that plan will be ready by March 2007.

But between now and then, she said, "Everybody has a lot of work to do."

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