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City officials want your input on a plan for Rochester’s urban forest

An aerial view of Washington Grove in Rochester.
Max Schulte
An aerial view of Washington Grove in Rochester.

The city of Rochester will be revamping its tree maintenance master plan for the first time in over a decade, with an eye toward creating an “equitable” arboreal infrastructure.

As the city embarks on its newest plan, an entirely new emphasis is being placed on environmental justice, distinguishing itself from the previous three plans. The city’s planning operates under a belief that access to vibrant tree infrastructure has an effect on residents’ mental and physical health and strengthens a sense of community.

“We want to make sure that we do our ultimate best to make sure people understand what those benefits of trees are, and they are numerous, they are environmental, socio-economic, and health,” said Rich Perrin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Services. “All of those, for the first time, are going to be looked at through a very intense equity lens.”

The city last updated its Urban Forest Master Plan in 2012 under Mayor Tom Richards. It spells out the city’s tactics for maintaining over 64,000 trees on roadsides as well as in parks and cemeteries.

That plan was the third developed by the city, following the ice storm of 1991 which destroyed around 14,000 city trees. The 2012 plan had a stated purpose of preserving “a horticultural heritage that delivers enormous beauty as well as ecological and economic benefits.”

Trees provide well-documented quality of life benefits to neighborhoods. For example, a 2018 report from the United States Department of Agriculture cited a survey of over 11,000 Denmark found that people living over 1 km from substantial greenspace reported a 42-percent higher level of stress than those within that radius. Those even further out of that area reported the worst levels of stress, vitality, and physical health.

In a series of articles, Democrat and Chronicle reporter Justin Murphy pointed out that neighborhoods with high rental rates and rates of poverty, like the Joseph Avenue corridor, also had sparser tree canopies. These neighborhoods also tend to have majority Black and Latino populations.

Neighborhoods with low levels of trees suffer from a lack of shade, which can make them significantly warmer on summer days compared to areas with lots of tree cover.

Data from one of Murphy’s articles noted that on a typical summer day where the temperature in the Upper Falls neighborhood is 80.5 degrees, it could be 68 degrees in the affluent tree and shade rich Mt. Hope area.

“I think a lot have that same kind of viewpoint, they don’t look at trees as anything,” said Brian Liberti, director of buildings and parks for the city of Rochester. “But why are they there? Why are they important?”

To start the planning process, the city will seek public input on what Rochester’s urban forest could look like. Liberti described those public sessions as an opportunity for the city to get feedback on its tree strategies and to educate the public on the health and social benefits of a healthy tree ecosystem.

The city is holding four in-person community sessions regarding the plan in December and January. The first is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 in the conference room of the city Water Bureau, 10 Felix Street. A virtual Zoom session is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 20.

Gino Fanelli covers City Hall. He joined the staff as a reporter in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.