Our urban forest is a complex system of trees, plants, wildlife, soil, air and water within the city including the many people who care for and enjoy it.
San Francisco was once a largely treeless landscape of grassy hills and sand dunes. Today, almost 700,000 trees grow on both public and private property. From the Embarcadero's gracious palms to the tall cypresses of Golden Gate Park, trees are a beloved feature of the city and critical piece of urban infrastructure. Trees make San Francisco a better place to work and live.
The Planning Department, in collaboration with the Department of Public Works and Friends of the Urban Forest, is creating a plan to promote San Francisco's urban forest with a primary focus on street trees. The Urban Forest Plan will identify policies and strategies to proactively manage and grow the City’s street tree population. The goal of the Plan is to create an expanded, healthy and thriving urban forest now and for the future. In conjunction with the Plan, a Street Tree Census and Street Tree Financing Study will also take place.
Importance of Trees
Healthy tree-lined streets are a key component of our urban forest. An estimated 105,000 trees grow along San Francisco’s streets. These trees contribute to a more walkable, livable and sustainable city. They remove pollutants from air and water. They create greener and more vibrant neighborhoods. They make streets more enjoyable to walk and shop along. Street trees connect us to nature and enhance the quality of our daily lives. The urban forest returns millions of dollars annually in benefits1. Trees perform the following valuable functions:
Filter air pollution
Reduce stormwater runoff
Slow climate change by storing carbon (CO2)
Create habitat for birds, animals and insects
Aid in local food production
Decrease demand on City’s infrastructure (sewer and energy systems)
Boost economic activity in commercial areas
Reduce building heating / cooling costs
Increase property values
Create green spaces to enjoy and play
Improve public health - mental and physical
Calm traffic and promote pedestrian and bicyclist safety
Muffle noise from freeways and other sources
Contribute to reduced crime rates 2
Why a Plan?
The Urban Forest Plan will address the following threats to the long-term health of our trees.
A Harsh Growing Environment
Streets are a difficult place for trees to take root and flourish. Small growing spaces, compacted soil, and vandalism make it hard for trees to survive and reach maturity.
Insufficient Tree Canopy
San Francisco lags behind other major cities in tree canopy coverage. Thousands of potential planting spaces remain empty. This prevents the City from realizing the full benefits (see above) of its green infrastructure. In addition, tree canopy cover is not evenly distributed leaving some neighborhoods with many trees and others noticeably lacking them.
Fragmented Maintenance Structure
Care for street trees is divided amongst fronting property owners and various public agencies. This makes coordination and a standard level of care challenging to achieve. It also creates a divided system whereby some property owners pay to maintain their street tree while the City assumes costs and responsibility for others.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) maintains the largest number of publicly managed street trees. Decreases in funding over the years have restricted DPW’s ability to sustain urban forestry staffing and programs. As a result, DPW is in the process of transferring responsibility for thousands of street trees to fronting property owners. See Financing Study (below).
Lack of Cohesive Vision
No comprehensive vision exists for the care and management of the city’s street trees. Without such a vision, issues such as long-term maintenance, the uneven distribution of trees and forest expansion won’t be proactively addressed.
Street Tree Financing Study
A MORE SUSTAINABLE URBAN FOREST
In an effort to address the City's declining urban forestry budget, the Planning Department commissioned an economic consultant, AECOM, to conduct a Street Tree Financing Study
. The Study evaluates the costs associated with street trees and identifies a range of potential funding strategies. The AECOM study is a starting point for a continuing dialogue on how to boost funding for trees and grow San Francisco's urban forest. Download the Street Tree Financing Study
: Executive Summary
| Full Report (Dec 2013)
A Census for Trees
YES, WE'RE COUNTING TREES - AND THE REPORT IS READY!
The City lacks comprehensive data on San Francisco’s street trees. As part of the Urban Forest Plan, a census of 27,000 street trees will be conducted. Information on location, age, species type and condition has been collected and will be used to develop an action plan aimed at expanding and improving the health of the City’s entire street tree population. Download the Street Tree Census Report
| For more information about the Street Tree Census, click here
For additional information on the Urban Forest Plan, please contact:
Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF)
(415) 268-0779 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Links & Resources
1. Assessing Urban Forest Effects and Values: San Francisco’s Urban Forest, United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service, Northern Research Station (2007).
2. The Relationship Between Tree Canopy and Crime Rates Across an Urban–Rural Gradient in the Greater Baltimore Region, University of Vermont, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (2012). Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?, Human-Environment Research Laboratory University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2001).
"Trees Can't Afford to Live Here" drawing by Base Design