Speak for the Trees sees Many Opportunities in Charlestown

There’s an old adage in Charlestown that, until traveling outside of the Town, many residents thought that telephone poles were trees.

That witticism from the past still rings true in Charlestown as it’s one of the least-green neighborhoods in terms of trees in the City. This year, an organization called Speak for the Trees is hoping to come into the neighborhood and leaf a mark on the Town’s trees.

David Meshoulam, executive director, and Amanda Rich, co-founder, both said that Charlestown has one of the thinnest tree canopies in the city, but also has lots of opportunities to change that.

“We have a lot of data by neighborhood on the tree canopy,” he said. “It is not the thinnest, but Charlestown is at the bottom quartile. I believe it’s at 10 percent as of 2017.”

The only neighborhoods with lower amounts of tree cover are Central Boston (Chinatown and downtown), East Boston and South Boston.

Meshoulam said they hope to be able to improve upon the Town’s tree cover, and the first opportunity they have seized upon is at Barry Park, known as the Oilies.

“That was brought to our attention,” he said. “We had a nice tour with the Mystic River Watershed Association and talked about how to make the Mystic a more green path. We ended up at Barry Playground and it immediately struck me that Barry Playground is unique in that there is a lot of soft-scape there. The back of the field has a lot of opportunities to create a buffer with some new trees. We want to make it more intentional.”

Beyond the Oilies, he said there are a lot more opportunities they have come to find.

“Barry is just one place,” he said. “We’re surprised to find there actually could be many others. There are a lot of opportunities in Charlestown, but first we want to listen to the neighborhood. We don’t want to dictate what trees are going where and what trees are best for the neighborhood. That’s a conversation we want to have.”

Rich said Charlestown is unique in the city because it has a lot of open spaces where trees could go, but much of that space – such as at the community college – is covered by asphalt or concrete.

Using aerial imagery, she said it stands out for its impervious surfaces.

“What’s interesting in Charlestown is it’s got one of the largest coverage areas of impervious surfaces,” she said. “That means it has a lot of roads and parking lots. Whether those parking lots are situation for more trees, we don’t know yet. They could be. Charlestown, though, does have the highest percentage of impervious coverage other than Southie. That’s really the driver in Charlestown.”

Both said that in most major cities, the income of a neighborhood has a lot to do with the abundance, or lack of, trees. That isn’t the case in Boston, where history and the past have defined how the tree cover looks today.

“It’s much more complicated in Boston,” she said. “Charlestown has one of the highest median incomes in the city and one of the lowest tree canopy covers. You might not get that in other cities because high tree canopy areas are usually associated with high median income.”

Meshoulam said things like Urban Renewal and highway development have defined the tree cover in Charlestown and other areas.

“Boston isn’t unique in the history piece,” he said. “What makes us unique in Boston is there are so many complicating factors in how to talk about urban tree canopy. Each neighborhood has its own story that is a combination of geography, history, race and environment.”

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