November 3, 2022
Trees provide habitats and improve the air we breathe. They help mitigate storm water, give us shade and project a sense of calmness in the world. Trees beautify both suburban and urban areas and can help reduce the heat island effect.
Many states and cities are looking at ways to protect their trees by coming up with a more enlightened approach to preserving current trees and planting new ones. The question is, how can cities continue to develop and maintain the tree cover in the process?
In Norwalk’s Citywide Plan, the City is tasked with protecting the natural environment. This entails not only protecting the open spaces and parks, but also its urban forestry by balancing growth and preservation. Allocating roadside space to street trees and landscaping helps improve the aesthetics of the streetscape, provides a buffer between the roadway and sidewalk to improve pedestrian comfort, and can facilitate stormwater management through bioretention features such as planters and swales.
Below we take a look at how Norwalk, CT is working to enhance its tree canopy with a tree ordinance and other actions.
Norwalk’s History of Tree Planting
Keeping Norwalk a tree-laden city has long been important to Norwalk. The city has had a tree planting program and a tree management plan in place for over 18 years. Key to this plan is working with liaisons from neighborhood associations. The liaisons keep an eye on all things tree-related in their area and suggest tree plantings in an effort to increase the number of trees in the city.
This approach ensures that the public has oversight and input into keeping a tree canopy alive and vital in their neighborhoods. Since 2004, about 1,200 trees have been planted in the city.
Norwalk Tree Ordinance
In Norwalk, like most cities, the more urban neighborhoods have fewer trees. Consequently, low-income neighborhoods have less tree canopy coverage, resulting in health and environmental problems such as high asthma rates.
To protect the City’s existing trees, and increase Norwalk’s tree canopy equitably, the Common Council approved an updated Tree Ordinance in 2021. It gave the city’s tree warden expanded powers and established a legacy tree program.
The tree warden is tasked with assessing or overseeing the evaluation of the city’s tree canopy. This evaluation helps determine whether or not a tree may be removed or altered when it’s on public property. To do so, requires a permit from the warden. The warden may also require a tree or shrub be replaced.
The warden keeps a record of the city’s existing trees, creating a catalog of the important legacy trees according to their size, age, and species.
The ordinance requires developers to protect a tree’s root zone during construction. The developer will also pay a bond before any work begins. Fines and penalties aim to discourage the unnecessary removal of trees.
Another important change brought about by the Tree Ordinance is the establishment of a Norwalk Tree Account. This account helps fund tree planting with the use of tree-related fines and fees, and other payments as well as public and private grants. Since its establishment, grants to this account have increased, allowing the City to expand its tree planting. For example, since the Tree Ordinance was passed, tree plantings increased from 56 in the fall of 2020 to 171 in the spring of 2022.
The Tree Advisory Committee
In the 2021 Tree Ordinance, the duties of the Tree Advisory Committee expanded. The Committee works closely with the tree warden to recommend the types of trees to plant. They also encourage Norwalk residents to volunteer to help plant trees as part of the ongoing tree planting program.
The Committee will oversee the creation of a Master Tree Plan which will include any studies made by the tree warden. The plan will assess Norwalk’s current tree canopy along with the relevant environmental, social and public health benefits, and develop strategies and actions to increase tree cover with primarily native and hybrid species of trees.
Norwalk, CT’s Environmental Projects
Concerns about environmental protection in Norwalk have led to the commitment to protect and increase Norwalk’s tree canopy including urban trees throughout the city.
The city is also undertaking a heat sensor study to track temperatures in various parts of the city to identify areas that may be vulnerable to extreme heat events. The results from this study will help inform tree planting and illustrate the benefits of a tree canopy.
In addition, Norwalk is in the process of adopting Complete Streets legislation and design manual. These will provide guidance for designing and reconstructing our streets with the principles of safety, sustainability, and vitality. This comprehensive and cross-functional approach to maintaining and designing the public right of way will take into consideration new tree installations.
Environmental projects like the Norwalk Tree Plan and Tree Ordinance recognize that trees are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, sequestering carbon, reducing stormwater, and improving the health and well being of residents.