Portland’s urban canopy cover is not evenly distributed (see Metro's 2007 canopy cover map below).
The Portland Plan envisions a more equitable city. For the Environmental Services Tree Program, this means focusing our work on providing trees and tree resources for low-canopy, low-income, and high-diversity neighborhoods. It also means we’re listening, working to shape our programs to match the input we receive so we can grow an urban forest that meets a diversity of needs.
One challenge to working in under-served neighborhoods is planting street trees where there are no curbs or sidewalks. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Urban Forestry, we developed standards for planting street trees on unimproved roads, which has significantly increased the number of Portlanders we can plant with. Trees improve the appearance of these streets, reduce flooding and erosion, and help keep cars in the road.
For some Portlanders, the time, money, and physical energy that go into planting trees can create a significant barrier.The Environmental Services Tree Program aims to remove those barriers.
Each year we use data on tree canopy cover, poverty, ethnic diversity, and intensity of former planting projects to prioritize and rotate “free tree” neighborhoods—those where we offer free street tree planting services. For these projects we use on-call contractors to plant the right tree for the right place at no cost to those who sign up. In return, we ask that participants water their trees in the summer for the first few summers – a cost of about $0.83 per tree per year. Free tree neighborhoods have been wildly successful in east Portland, where we planted 2,700 street trees in our first three seasons of focus. This was in addition to the hundreds of steet trees planted by our partner Friends of Trees.