Opinion » Guest Opinion

Support the Trees on Melnea Cass Boulevard: We Demand a Public Tree Hearing

Wednesday Aug 26, 2020

This article is from the August 27, 2020 issue of South End News.

Photo courtesy Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard
Photo courtesy Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard  

To: Commissioner Ryan Woods
Corporation Counsel
Eugene O'Flaherty
Re: Request for a public hearing concerning tree removal along
From Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard and others

Dear Commissioner Woods and Attorney Flaherty:
We write to support the request from the Conservation Law Foundation for a Chapter 87 Public Shade Tree hearing with the city's Tree Warden concerning the removal of more than 100 mature trees in Lower Roxbury along Melnea Cass Boulevard. Our organizations include local residents concerned about this project and the impact the loss of trees will have on air quality, ambient temperature, and livability in this neighborhood, part of a designated severe heat island in Boston's Climate Ready Boston Final Report from 2016. Quoting from Mayor Walsh's 2019 Climate Action Plan: "By 2050, Boston's summers may be as hot as Washington, DC's summers are today; by the end of the century, they may be hotter than Birmingham, AL summers are today."
This reconstruction project was designed years ago, under a different administration, and before decision-makers understood the increased severity of climate change. Today, during this summer heat wave, we are witnessing Roxbury's future: it, like the rest of Boston, is hotter and hotter. Trees are a critical tool for us to meet and adapt to the challenges that this future holds. In his testimony at a June 2019 City Council hearing on our urban forest, Chief of Environment and Energy, Chris Cook acknowledged the outsized environmental value that mature trees play.
In the 1960s residents of Boston successfully fought against the construction of Interstate I-95 and the Inner Belt, highways that would have cut through Boston and displaced families, increased air pollution, and removed green space in the heart of the city. Their advocacy ensured that this section in Roxbury, already cleared for the project, would become a greener and more community-friendly boulevard for a primarily Black neighborhood of Boston. That road, now known as Melnea Cass Boulevard named in honor of the Boston civil rights leader who fought for decades for racial equity in Boston, today is lined with over 600 mature trees that provide the community with clean and cool air, pleasant walkways, storm water run-off flooding protection and a sense of pride.
An aerial photograph of Melnea Cass Boulevard from Imagine Boston 2030 shows a wide swath of green lining the Boulevard. Sadly many of those trees are gone, as vacant parcels have been developed. With this reconstruction project, we are at risk of losing many more trees from both sides of the street. Even among those trees to be "preserved", over 200 will have their roots cut, shortening their life span and leading to even further loss. Is this environmental justice: To hope that maybe in 30 or 40 years we will have the equivalent canopy? What will those intervening years be like for the neighborhood? Who will suffer most from severe heat, dirtier air, and less livable streets? We request a Chapter 87 public hearing on the removal of these 100 shade trees so that the community's voice can be heard.
Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Black Boston COVID Coalition, Black Economic Justice Institute, Charlesgate Alliance, Charles River Watershed Association, Friends of the Public Garden, Garden Club of the Back Bay, Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, Mass Audubon, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Mount Pleasant, Forest & Vine Neighborhood Association, Muddy Water Initiative, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, Next Leadership Development Corporation, Nubian Square Neighborhood Association, Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation, Olaleye Communications, Inc., Roxbury Neighborhood Council, Roxbury Path Forward Neighborhood Association, Speak for the Trees, Boston, Sierra Club Chapter of Massachusetts. Tree Eastie. Trees for Watertown, United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury