• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation

As public and private urban forest managers work in partnership to build a more equitable and robust urban forest, the Providence Parks Department and the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program aim to engage residents and neighborhood stakeholders in developing and implementing community-driven tree planting and stewardship solutions focused on climate adaptation and human health in Upper and Lower South Providence, two low-canopy and low-income neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change and environmental justice.

Increased temperatures and precipitation, more frequent extreme weather events, and altered soil moisture threaten the canopy cover in this project area. The area is already significantly impacted by Urban Heat Island effect, localized street flooding, and poor air quality due to its high amount of impervious surfaces, low percentage of canopy cover, and close proximity to a major highway and a heavy-use industrial port. As urban forest managers we plan to address these challenges by increasing and improving tree canopy, selecting climate-adapted tree species, increasing ground cover biodiversity, installing curbside bioswale tree filter pits, and conducting increased assessment and maintenance of the existing tree stock. We will work to implement these management interventions by building on existing program models and partnerships to cultivate and resource increased involvement of community stakeholders in the planning, planting and maintaining of new trees in their neighborhood.

Project Area

Project Area: Lower South Providence
The project area is primarily residential and light commercial. It is bordered by I-95 and the industrial Port of Providence to the east and by hospitals with vast expanses of surface parking lots to the north.

The focus of the project activity is on right-of-way and front-of-property trees and planting sites (i.e. in sidewalk pits, lawn strips, or front yards). The first phase will focus on streets bordering the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) and The Met School (a local alternative project-based-learning school) and will spread out from there.

The existing canopy cover is relatively low (20%) and lacks species diversity. The most common tree species include callery pear, red maple, Japanese zelkova, and honeylocust. There are many highly disturbed and polluted sites in the neighborhood and residents battle poor air quality (this neighborhood has the 9th highest asthma rates in the country). The 8 census block groups that make it up have a total population of 8,493, with 94% identifying as non-white. The average unemployment rate is 17%, and 69% of the population has a household income that falls below 200% of the poverty line.

Management Goals

Management Goal 1: Increase and enhance canopy cover throughout the project area by involving community stakeholders in tree planting and ensuring newly planted street trees survive--ultimately improving the health environment (heat and air quality) for people who reside, work, and go to school in the project area.


  1. Plant 30-50 trees in the project area through PNPP’s community-driven Neighborhood Street Tree Planting model in 2021. Plant an additional 30-50/year over the next 2-5 years.
  2. Identify the most vulnerable sites and develop and implement tree pit protection (hybrid bike-rack/tree pit fences).


Management Goal 2: Decrease stormwater runoff.


  1. Install strategically placed stormwater curbside bioswale tree pits in the project area, in addition to PNPP’s regular tree pits (5 bioswale tree filter pits in project area).
  2. Select tree species to plant in the project area that will most effectively capture stormwater, and in particular identify species that will function well in the bioswale filter pits.
  3. Improve existing and new tree pits to improve stormwater infiltration and soil health.


Management Goal 3: Engage residents, community groups, and institutions within the project area in planning and implementation of tree planting and stewardship activities.


  1. Involve residents, students, and community groups in organizing and installing trees in a Spring 2021 planting day, as well as in young tree stewardship (e.g., watering, weeding, and pruning). Target: 15 additional residential sites.
  2. Work in partnerships with local stakeholders in the neighborhood, such as the Met School, to conduct outreach to residents (e.g., flyers, canvassing, local communication channels).
  3. Recruit and train residents in the project area to become future PNPP ‘Tree Leaders.’


Management Goal 4: Expand on existing program models and pilot new initiatives and practices (e.g., community youth tree watering/jobs training partnerships) that will increase and improve tree canopy while also serving as tools for outreach and education regarding urban forest and link to climate and health, and support the development of the citywide PVD Tree Plan.


  1. Leverage existing partnerships and form new ones with community and youth groups to water and weed newly planted trees.
  2. Recruit participants for the Providence Community Tree Keeper program from among residents in the project area (currently one with the lowest level of participation).
  3. Engage stewards as “ambassadors” to spread the word about caring for and growing our urban forest.


Management Goal 5. Protect existing tree canopy in the project area, and prevent future canopy loss due to extreme weather/heavy winds.


  1. Conduct risk assessment of all right-of-way trees over 15” DBH in the project area.
  2. Conduct preventative pruning/tree removal, as determined by risk assessment.
  3. Monitor health/risk level of existing large trees over 3-7 year period.
  4. Install windbreak plantings to protect new trees in wind vulnerable sites.
  5. Identify ash trees in project area for potential replacement or EAB treatment.

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Warmer Temperatures: Temperatures in New England are projected to increase 3.5 to 8.5 °F by the end of the century, with the greatest warming expected to occur during winter. The project area is in one of the hottest pockets of Providence.
Altered Hydrology: Annual precipitation is projected to increase and there is potential for reduced growing season precipitation. Intense precipitation events will continue to become more frequent and the timing and amount of stream flow may change.
Extreme Events: Intense precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. Older trees in the existing canopy are susceptible to breakage due to wind, while localized flooding events paired with a combined sewer system could lead to water issues.
Altered Soil Moisture and Increased Drought Risk: Warmer temperatures and altered precipitation will interact to change soil moisture patterns throughout the year, with the potential for both wetter and drier conditions depending on the location/season.

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:


Tree establishment may be more difficult with increased drought risk and other climate change impacts.
Planting days & volunteer stewardship activities may be impacted by more frequent storms.
Hot/dry weather may make it more difficult to get residents outside to water/weed tree pits.
Identifying tree species that meet all criteria (climate adaptability, resilience, conditions of bioswale pits, health considerations).
Identifying appropriate tree species for bioswale plantings & ensuring their survival (maximizing tree size and longevity in stormwater installations).
Increased storms and wind events could result in more tree damage, which could increase hesitation around tree planting & deepen negative views toward trees in general. As a result, recruiting participants & tree recipients may be more difficult.


As hardiness zones shift, there will be new tree species options for planting & an opportunity to grow the nursery stock of trees more adaptable to climate change.
It may become possible to adjust the timing of plantings with the lengthening growing season (hold plantings later into the fall, or earlier in the spring). Younger trees may also be able to grow faster.
Collaborate with different partners on pilot projects (e.g., Providence Stormwater Innovation Center, Roger Williams Park).
Stormwater is a "hot topic" due to climate change, which may present an opportunity to get more funding.
Work with young people who are concerned by climate change and connect to Providence’s Green Justice Zones to build capacity and community organizing efforts around climate change in frontline communities.
Use heat and flood impacts in the neighborhood to help make connections to importance/value of trees and implement effective messaging.

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

Increase and Enhance Tree Canopy
Select drought-adapted and wind tolerant trees by examining adaptive capacity scores for individual tree species.
Stormwater/Street Flooding
Increase biodiversity of ground cover and widen tree pits around existing trees.
Plant multiple trees in larger beds and improve/change soil within the beds over time.
Add more continuous tree-pits and lawn strips.
Provide homeowners with education/guidance for planting and recommend planting a layer under their trees.
Look into products such as mycorrhizae packets, hydrogel, and biochar.
Extreme Storms and Wind
Maintain pruning strategies.
Consider planting windbreaks that help other trees survive on the property and reduce drying.
Conduct additional tree risk assessments to identify hazard trees for removal in priority areas.
Treat trees that could become a hazard.
Community/Stakeholder Engagement
Develop communication strategies using the local school and organizations (e.g., Boys & Girls Club), and send home flyers with kids.
Implement additional door-to-door canvassing and events/programming around trees.
Identify heritage trees and bring attention to them.
Create small green spaces that incorporate nature and are designed by the community.


Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Count the number of new species planted and inventory the diversity and survival of trees over two years.
Measure organic matter content and microbial biomass in the soil.
Measure the percentage of pruned trees in the neighborhood and document the number of volunteers.
Document the number of risk assessments conducted and EAB treatments given.
Document the number of residential sites signed on and number of presentations, events, and outreach activities.
Examine whether bioswales/filter pits increase infiltration, soil organic matter, and soil microbial diversity/biomass.
Identify a green space(s) and conduct assessments such as community surveying and the number of engagements with a particular aspect of the space.

Learn More


Carbon mitigation
Management plan
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