Equitably Expanding Chicago’s Tree Canopy
Bloomberg Associates, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, worked with the City of Chicago to accelerate tree planting and maintenance in neighborhoods throughout the city, with a focus on historically marginalized and underserved communities with lower-than-average tree canopy coverage.
Trees are a critical piece of our city’s infrastructure and vital to our work towards combating climate change. As a city, we must address Chicago’s continual net loss of trees and apply comprehensive, equitable strategies that will not only increase the city’s tree canopy, but ensure that underinvested communities are prioritized and included in the process.
Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago
Implement Sustainable and Resilient Solutions
- Tree Planting and Protection
Like many cities, Chicago’s tree canopy is not evenly distributed across its neighborhoods. As a result, many communities do not benefit from the health, economic, and environmental services trees provide. The City’s historic approach to tree planting relied on individual residents to formally request planting and maintenance, with annual funding fluctuating from year to year. This reactive approach resulted in more removals than plantings, as Chicago averaged a net loss of close to 7,500 trees a year for five years, further tilting the imbalance in tree coverage throughout the city to wealthier communities.
As part of the ambitious Chicago Recovery Plan, Mayor Lightfoot asked Bloomberg Associates to help design and support an equitable, proactive, data-driven strategy to plant trees across the city, with a focus on “priority equity” communities. The program, named “Our Roots Chicago,” aims to plant 75,000 trees in Chicago in five years, increase canopy coverage in underserved areas, educate residents about the benefits of trees, and empower communities to help identify where trees are needed most.
With support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Partnership for Healthy Cities, the Chicago Department of Public Health created a “community tree site selection tool” that collects and interprets data on tree canopy, air quality, land surface temperatures, economic hardship, and other social vulnerability and environmental factors to better understand where trees are lacking and where residents may benefit most from increased plantings.
Bloomberg Associates worked with City staff to implement operational and policy changes to significantly increase the City’s planting and maintenance capacities to meet the new tree goals. This included setting an additional goal of planting 40% of trees in the final four years of the program in priority equity communities. In addition, Bloomberg Associates supported the City’s extensive community outreach efforts, including the formation of a 70-member Community Tree Equity Working Group led by the City’s Department of Public Health, and the launch of a “Tree Ambassador” program designed to train and empower residents with regard to tree issues.
In the program’s first year, the City planted more than 18,000 trees, exceeding its annual target. More than one-third of the trees were in priority equity communities. With an investment of $46 million, funding is in place for the Our Roots Chicago program to achieve its goal of planting 75,000 trees over 5 years in 22 priority communities, equitably expanding Chicago’s tree canopy and improving the health and quality of life for tens of thousands of residents.
$46M+ invested in the Our Roots program
18,000 trees planted in program's first year
75,000+ trees to be planted over 5 years