.|  Baltimore Ecosystem Study
Demographic and Socioeconomic Research Projects
 
Historical Geography of Urban Forestry and Roadside Tree Planting in Baltimore, 1912 - 2006
  • Geoff Buckley, Department of Geography, Ohio University
  • Morgan Grove, Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service
Description


A span of rowhouses in Baltimore, purportedly the world's longest.
Photo: Geoff Buckley
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, "trees are major capital assets in America's cities and towns. Just as streets, sidewalks, sewers, public buildings and recreational facilities are a part of a community's infrastructure, so are publicly owned trees.” As numerous studies have shown, urban trees carry out important social and ecological functions. They diminish air and noise pollution, reduce soil erosion, support a diverse array of plant and animal life, and influence local climate. From a social perspective, urban trees and forests add "natural character" to the urban scene, "screen harsh scenery," and "soften the outline of masonry, metal and glass." They may also "increase economic stability," improve local business, and even reduce crime rates. (www.dnr.state.md.us)
 
In 1912 Baltimore Mayor James H. Preston approved passage of Ordinance No. 154 which created the position of “city forester” and formally introduced professional forest management to the state’s largest city. Though not the first municipality to adopt such measures, Baltimore could now be added to the growing list of major American cities to venture down the path of urban forestry. Despite the best efforts of several professionally-trained foresters, Baltimore’s aspirations to become known as the “city of a million trees” were never fully realized. Indeed, the city’s “shrinking forest” has been a subject of concern in recent years. Given the city’s plans to double its tree canopy in the next thirty years, a detailed examination of past urban forestry practices – what has worked and what has not – is both timely and valuable. Using urban political ecology as a theoretical guidepost, our research focuses on the following key questions:
 
  • Why was roadside tree planting initiated in Baltimore?
  • How have tree-planting efforts varied across space and time in Baltimore?
  • Are street trees distributed equitably or inequitably across the city?

Urban trees in Baltimore. Photo: Maryland Historical Society
Data and Results
 
Over the past several years, data have been gleaned from city forester reports, annual Board of Park Commissioners reports, historical newspapers, neighborhood improvement and “protection” association meeting minutes, and interviews with retired city officials and resource managers. Photographs from one of Baltimore’s first urban renewal projects have also been acquired. Our research shows that although large-scale tree planting in Baltimore dates back at least as far as the 1830s, when William Patterson installed trees to create a more picturesque “public walk” on his property, it was not until 1912 that a reluctant city government finally consented to establish an agency to care for the city’s trees. Our work reveals that the drive to introduce professional forestry to Baltimore was a “bottom-up” effort – led by an alliance of citizens’ groups including the Municipal Art Society, the Women’s Civic League, and the Peabody Heights Improvement and Protection Association. Unlike Maryland’s State Board of Forestry, however, Baltimore’s Division of Forestry has been unable to keep pace with tree losses in the city. Insufficient funds, hostile environmental conditions, disease, and, in some quarters, opposition from the general public have conspired to frustrate the well-intentioned efforts of several city foresters who occupied the position from 1912 to the 1960s. Areas of the city that have maintained a healthy tree canopy have done so thanks to the vigilance of neighborhood tree advocacy groups.

Presentations

“Neighborhood Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945.” Annual Baltimore Ecosystem Study Science Meeting (Baltimore, MD, October 2008).
 
“To promote the material and moral welfare of the community”: Neighborhood Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945.” Annual Meeting of the European Association for Urban History (Lyon, France, August 2008).
 
“Baltimore’s Urban Forest: A Century of Change.” Annual Meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculturalists (Hagerstown, MD, October 2007).
 
“Improvement and Protection Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1933.” Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (San Francisco, CA, April 2007).
 
“Reforesting Baltimore: Challenges Past and Present.” Annual Baltimore Ecosystem Study Science Meeting (Baltimore, MD, October 2006).
 
“Reforesting Baltimore: Challenges Past and Present.” Annual Baltimore Ecosystem Study Science Meeting (Baltimore, MD, October 2006).
 
“Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and the Leakin Park Controversy.” International Conference of Historical Geographers (Hamburg, Germany, August 2006).
 
“Professional Forestry in Baltimore: Historical Roots and Enduring Legacies.” Annual Meeting of the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association (Ocean City, MD, April 2006).
 
“Professional Forestry in Baltimore: A Historical Perspective.” Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (Chicago, IL, March 2006).
 
“Exploring the Peabody Heights Improvement Association File, 1909-1933.” Annual Baltimore Ecosystem Study Science Meeting (Baltimore, MD, October 2005).
 
Thesis

Cynthia L. Merse, M.S. Environmental Studies (Thesis: “Historical Geography of Urban Forestry and Roadside Tree Planting in Baltimore,” June 2005).
 

Publications

Buckley, G. L. In press. America’s Forest Legacy: A Century of Saving Trees in the Old Line State. Santa Fe: Center for American Places.
 
Buckley, G.L. and C.G. Boone. In press. “To promote the material and moral welfare of the community”: Neighborhood Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945. In: Environmental and Social Inequalities in the City since 1800, eds. R. Rodger and G. Massard-Guilbaud. New York: Berghahn.
 
Merse, C., G.L. Buckley, and C.G. Boone. 2009. Street Trees and Urban Renewal: A Baltimore Case Study. The Geographical Bulletin 50(2):65-81.