Demographic and Socioeconomic Research Projects
|Historical Geography of Urban Forestry and Roadside Tree Planting in Baltimore, 1912 - 2006|
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:
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.
“Neighborhood Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945.” Annual Baltimore Ecosystem Study Science Meeting (Baltimore, MD, October 2008).
Cynthia L. Merse, M.S. Environmental Studies (Thesis: “Historical Geography of Urban Forestry and Roadside Tree Planting in Baltimore,” June 2005).
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.