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Weinland Park tree program: The intersection of environmental justice and planning

by Matthew Adair and Carlos Iñiguez

After a five-year tree planting campaign, Weinland Park is cleaner and greener. Here’s how and why NDC led this important initiative.

One characteristic that often defines beautiful and desirable urban neighborhoods is an abundance of trees. The Weinland Park tree planting program was created as a collaborative effort among funders who are dedicated to improving the quality of the life in the neighborhood. Trees don’t just offer a beautiful neighborhood setting; as a result of climate change, higher summer temperatures and increased rainfall totals are becoming more common in Central Ohio. Columbus is also the fastest-growing heat island of the 60 largest U.S. cities, making climate-smart solutions more critical as our region expands. Trees help to mitigate these effects. They sequester excess CO2, help control flooding, and provide much-needed shade, among other things. This program coincides with the City of Columbus’ new Urban Forestry Master Plan that calls for increasing the city’s tree canopy to 40%.

Inequity in tree canopy cover—more affluent neighborhoods often have more tree cover. Via: The New York Times.

The lack of trees in certain areas is a growing concern in the environmental justice space. Across American cities, neighborhoods with lower median incomes have much fewer trees than their wealthier counterparts. Climate change mitigation and street beautification is not only for the rich. The case for trees, especially in neglected neighborhoods, is strong. However, the city is often restricted to working within publicly owned land. More than 70% of the City of Columbus’ tree canopy sits on private property. To address this barrier, the Neighborhood Design Center worked directly with property owners to plant high-impact trees for public benefit.

Newly planted trees in Weinland Park will add to the urban canopy of the neighborhood

After a few years of identifying property owners, studying impacts, and connecting with partners, the Weinland Park tree program planted 91 trees. Because each species affects its ecosystem in a different way, we calculated the environmental services impact of each species to calculate the ecological impact of our work. The calculation was done for the expected lifespan of the trees—approximately 40 years.

Carbon sequestration and its estimated impact diagram. Map showing selected tree planting sites in Weinland Park.

This effort to increase the number of trees and measure urban reforestation impacts was supported by The Columbus Foundation, Community Properties of Ohio, and The Ohio State University. Property owners were identified in collaboration with the Weinland Park Community Civic Association. The trees were planted by the local Seely’s Landscape Nursery. Together with these groups, NDC added long-lasting trees throughout Weinland Park.

Transformation—In 1964, this property was covered with lush tree canopy. The middle photo shows the property in 2019 without trees. The Weinland Park tree program planted two trees as shown in the right photo.

The figures speak for themselves. The Weinland Park tree program has considerably impacted both the curb appeal of the neighborhood and the local ecosystem. NDC is hopeful that funding for similar programs at a larger scale will be made available in the future. Our neighbors deserve climate-smart solutions and beautiful streetscapes. Read more in the full report here.


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