Rochester’s Urban Forest: Engaging the Community to Enhance Our Canopy 

Rochester’s Urban Forest: Engaging the Community to Enhance Our Canopy

The City of Rochester is known for its lush parks and tree-lined streets. With 64,000 public trees and canopy coverage of 25% across the city, Rochester’s trees provide immense environmental, economic, and social benefits. 

Now, the City is embarking on an exciting update to its 2012 Urban Forest Master Plan to further enhance our urban forest. The goals? Increase canopy cover, promote native species, advance environmental justice by prioritizing tree planting in lower-income areas, mitigate climate change, and meaningfully engage the community. 

A Robust History of Urban Forest Stewardship 

Rochester has a history of proactive urban forest management stemming from the need to combat tree loss from Dutch elm disease in the 1960s. This led to establishing the City’s Forestry Division, tasked with managing the care, maintenance, planting, and removal of all public trees. Over the past 60 years, the Division has spearheaded numerous initiatives to expand and protect Rochester’s trees in the face of threats like emerald ash borer, windstorms, road salt, and climate change. Their efforts have led to national recognition for the City. 

According to the website PlanItGeo, Rochester is tied for 3rd place with Washington, D.C., for having the best urban forestry program in the United States. Both cities meet seven of the website’s eight best practices for urban forest management. This puts them just behind first-ranked Seattle and New York City. 

Far-Reaching Benefits to the Community 

Urban forests provide immense value to communities, from improved air and water quality to increased property values and enhanced quality of life. The City of Rochester has quantified many benefits in its Urban Forest Master Plan. 

Specific benefits highlighted include: 

  • Producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide and other pollutants 
  • Promoting social ties and community cohesion 
  • Reducing stress and improving mental health 
  • Creating shade and cooling effects that reduce energy use 
  • Reducing stormwater runoff and risk of flooding 
  • Increasing property values by 7-20% 

Imagine a Rochester without these perks in 10, 20 or 50 years! Proper management and stewardship is critical to ensure future generations can enjoy the forest. 

Engaging the Community 

To inform the Urban Forest Master Plan update, the City and Highland Planning implemented an innovative public engagement strategy focused on “going to them.” Our strategy includes many fun, interactive in-person and virtual events and door-to-door outreach. 

So far, the community response has been tremendous, with high attendance at public meetings and high survey responses. Residents are passionate about planting more native, wind-resistant species, promoting environmental justice, and getting youth, schools and the community more involved in caring for and expanding the City’s urban forest. 

This level of public participation puts Rochester ahead of the curve. According to American Forests, less than a quarter of U.S. cities engage residents when developing urban forestry plans. By centering community voice, Rochester aims to co-create an urban forest plan that truly reflects residents’ values, fosters a culture of stewardship, and positions trees as vital civic infrastructure. Kudos to the city leadership for their vision and commitment to the public process. 

Explore Rochester’s urban forest at the City’s interactive forestry dashboard. This cool resource allows you to view tree-planting initiatives across the city and even look up the exact species of trees planted on your street. The dashboard helps showcase the City’s commitment to robust urban forestry data and community education. Take a moment to explore all the features! 

Rochester has a chance to become a national model for equitable, climate-forward urban forestry centered on partnership. Please stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about who will serve as Rochester’s new Tree Ambassadors. 

Learn more at https://www.cityofrochester.gov/UrbanForestMasterPlan/. Take a moment to share your thoughts via the survey at Instant Input.  

Author: Megan Morsch, Public Engagement Lead at Highland Planning

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