Urban Forestry Plan Needs Public Input
Tonight, Columbus residents will be able to make public comments regarding the city’s long-term Urban Forestry Master Plan. Columbusites are encouraged to visit Wyandot Lodge between 6 and 8 p.m. to offer input on the city’s plan to reduce air pollution, stormwater damage and the urban heat island effect through the long-term planting of trees and maintenance of a green canopy over Columbus.
Trees are an important tool in offsetting the effects of climate change. Not only do trees clean the air and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, they also reduce temperatures and provide shade during intense summer heat waves like those experienced by Columbus and other cities in 2019. In major cities, an abundance of heat-absorbing hard surfaces creates what is known as an urban heat island. Tree canopy coverage can help fight the heat island effect, but Columbus has lagged behind peer cities in effective tree coverage.
According to columbusufmp.org, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville each have almost twice as much canopy coverage as Columbus, and among Columbus neighborhoods, canopy coverage can vary wildly.
City leaders have discussed tree planting efforts for several years now. In 2015, the city introduced “Branch Out Columbus,” a program with the goal of planting 300,000 new trees by this year. That program started its work in 2016 but ultimately failed, with the Columbus Dispatch reporting last year that the city only managed to plant 38,631 new trees between 2015 and 2019.
Meanwhile, in December 2018, researchers at The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center released the Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan, which recommends increasing “the amount of vegetation and tree coverage throughout the city” to tackle the problem of severe heat waves.
The new Urban Forestry Master Plan seems to be moving at a more deliberate pace, with the organizers forming an advisory group of more than 100 groups and individuals who will go “through a series of workshops to explore existing conditions, challenges in the community and ideas for solutions, partnerships and more.” Tonight’s public meeting at the Wyandot Lodge is part of the current “Public & Stakeholder Engagement” phase.
This engagement phase might be significant to the UFMP organizers because of challenges that were identified during a January 30 advisory group meeting, which found a lack of community awareness as a top impediment to tree-planting efforts.
“There is a great lack of awareness and understanding of the public about the importance of trees, and there is a lack of communication and trust in underserved communities,” the advisory group wrote in their January 30 meeting notes. “Much of today’s political, business, and citizen culture doesn’t appear to put a high value on trees. Many commented on a resistance to tree canopy efforts, much of which comes from lack of understanding value. Many renters aren’t invested.”
More information about tonight’s public meeting can be found here.