Guest Op-Ed: Let the Youth Speak for Trees

By State Rep. Dan Ryan and       Councilor Lydia Edwards

A significant amount of discussion has taken place in the last month regarding the Bunker Hill housing redevelopment. While some residents have asked to extend the review process in an effort to preserve and protect Charlestown’s tree canopy on the site; others support the plan and agree the best option is to move forward to improve the living conditions of this aging development and revitalize the area. We can bridge the divide within our community by focusing efforts on tangible solutions to earnest questions as they arise. This process has allowed us to do this.

Numerous meetings were held with stakeholders regarding this process and all perspectives were given careful consideration. A distinct commonality emerged following these discussions: we all care deeply for the future of Charlestown. In fact, we agree with one another more than we disagree.

We have some suggestions on how we can work together to achieve both housing justice and environmental justice without sacrificing one for the other:

•First, Leggatt McCall should do their best to maintain as many trees as possible without delaying phase one. This is a standard they can aspire to and we can continue to hold them accountable in order to meet this standard.

They must also prioritize installing mature trees in the early phases of construction. We have seen this before at the Encore Casino where a tree farm was utilized to incorporate older and larger trees. There are multiple funding streams Leggatt McCall can consider in order to make a true financial commitment and ensure mature trees are replaced. Leggat McCall should also assist the City of Boston in its “Urban Forest” plan.

•Second, we need to continue monitoring the extent of the tree canopy in order to hold the developer accountable. This must be done by an arborist or tree expert whose perspective is neutral. We believe the City can put out an RFP in a fair and consistent way that is without conflict or questionable intent.

•Finally, we would like to provide an opportunity for the youth of Charlestown to lead on this issue. We could establish an environmental justice youth corps for the entire one square mile. This idea has been presented to all stakeholders and met with great enthusiasm.

The youth in Charlestown have proven their capabilities through their stewardship of the Peace Park and activism on the Bunker Hill IAG. They’ve already rolled up their sleeves and invested energy in ensuring Charlestown remains a vibrant and inclusive neighborhood for all. We want to amplify their voice not just for the development but for all of Charlestown.

In other words, the youth can speak for the trees. We ultimately would encourage them to take ownership of these efforts because they will inherit all of our decisions.

We can provide the necessary resources and connect them to local environmental non-profits in order to be successful. Leggatt McCall and other sources should provide summer jobs or opportunities to complete the tree census that is desperately needed for Charlestown.

We can undertake this challenge while also holding the developers accountable. We can approach the next decade as an opportunity to center voices most impacted by this development and by encouraging the youth to lead the fight for a greener Charlestown.

After over four years of planning, it’s time for us to move forward. Over 100 families have left Charlestown in the hopes of returning in the near future. We intend for those families to come home as quickly as possible and without delay.

Let’s work together as a community and do so in good faith.Councilor Lydia Edwards and State Representative Dan Ryan are the elected representatives for Charlestown.

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