Historical urban tree canopy cover change in two post-industrial cities
Present-day spatial patterns of urban tree canopy (UTC) are created by complex interactions between various human and biophysical drivers; thus, urban forests represent legacies of past processes. Understanding these legacies can inform municipal tree planting and canopy cover goals while also addressing urban sustainability and inequity. We examined historical UTC cover patterns and the processes that formed them in the cities of Chelsea and Holyoke, Massachusetts using a mixed methods approach. Combining assessments of delineated UTC from aerial photos with historical archival data, we show how biophysical factors and cycles of governance and urban development and decay have influenced the spatiotemporal dynamics of UTC. The spatially explicit UTC layers generated from this research track historical geographic tree distribution and dynamic change over a 62-year period (1952–2014). An inverse relationship was found between UTC and economic prosperity: while canopy gains occurred in depressed economic periods, canopy losses occurred in strong economic periods. A sustainable increase of UTC is needed to offset ongoing losses and overcome historical legacies that have suppressed UTC across decades. These findings will inform future research on residential canopy formation and stability, but most importantly, they reveal how historical drivers can be used to inform multi-decadal UTC assessments and the creation of targeted, feasible UTC goals at neighborhood and city scales. Such analyses can help urban natural resource managers to better understand how to protect and expand their cities’ UTC over time for the benefit of all who live in and among the shade of urban forests.
Healy, Marc; Rogan, John; Roman, Lara A.; Nix, Sabine; Martin, Deborah G.; and Geron, Nicholas, "Historical urban tree canopy cover change in two post-industrial cities" (2022). Geography. 326.