Monday, November 21, 2011

Planning for a Sustainable D.C.

Contributing writer - Lisa Morris, Planning Associate

Mayor Gray has an ambitious goal: he wants to make our city “the greenest, healthiest, most livable city in the country.” From this intention, Sustainable DC was born. The Office of Planning launched the initiative in September with a website and series of public meetings to get people talking about what sustainability means to them and what it can mean to life in the District. Residents, businesses and organizations around the city have already contributed thousands of ideas from window farming to a canoe-share program. Here at Casey Trees, we’ve been participating in the process and sharing some ideas of our own.

It may come as no surprise that our recommendations focus on a simple concept: more trees! Trees are at the forefront of creating a green, healthy and livable city. They remove pollutants from the air, capture stormwater before it can flow into waterways, make streets more inviting for walking and biking, provide habitat for animals and can even act as a local food source. They do all of this at relatively little cost and can be integrated into the existing urban fabric without requiring major structural overhauls. In short, they’re a great bargain.

Most agree on the goal of enhancing the urban forest, but to make it happen in a dynamic urban environment with competing demands for limited space, we need a roadmap. The District has an informal goal of growing the tree canopy to 40% by 2035, and to turn this goal into action, we need laws, policies and regulations that give it teeth. One example is to update the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002 to ensure that it protects the large canopy trees of today and tomorrow. An Urban Forest Master Plan is another necessary tool to provide clear direction on how to reach this goal. The City’s MS-4 stormwater permit requires the adoption of such a plan; however, the City has yet to develop one. 

Changes to the built environment and development regulations can also help create a more tree-friendly city. For example, encouraging developers to bury utility wires underground makes room for expanded tree canopy, and suspended sidewalks with soil cells underneath create space for roots to stretch out so they can get all the nutrients they need to thrive. These are simple strategies to accommodate population growth and new development without sacrificing our urban forest.

Trees are a critical part of the living system that is a city. We are excited to bring this perspective to the Sustainable DC process as we build a road map to a greener, healthier and more livable District.

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