Washington, DC earned the moniker “The City of Trees” as a result of its long-standing commitment to its urban forest. Trees were considered so essential that they were included as an integral part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design for the capital. The L’Enfant Plan, drafted in 1791, reserved space in the public right-of-way exclusively for trees.
That original commitment to dedicating space specifically for trees has been reaffirmed several times as the city has grown and evolved. Famously, city leader Alexander “Boss” Shepherd installed nearly 60,000 street trees in 1872, leaving a legacy of natural beauty that endures to this day.
However, recent national trends of urban renewal are imposing enormous pressures on the city’s tree cover. To address this challenge, Washington, DC continues to implement a growing number of initiatives guided by an ambitious goal to cover 40 percent of the District with a healthy tree canopy by 2032.
Sustainable DC estimates that the District and its partners will need to plant at least 10,850 trees per year to meet the canopy goal. Since 2010, DC has exceeded this goal. Most recently, in 2018, partners from across the District, including the District Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and Environment, Casey Trees, volunteers, and other community partners and organizations exceeded the goal by planting 15,529 trees. Sustainable DC, adopted in 2013, sets long-range goals for making the District the greenest city in the nation. The plan calls for increasing green infrastructure in the public right-of-way and taking actions to improve the health of the city’s waterways.
The District Stormwater regulations require stormwater volume retention on all major construction projects. Both public and private projects constructing in the right-of-way are required to retain stormwater to the maximum extent practicable. Designers must examine all uses of public space and place stormwater management where space and use allow.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is installing Green Infrastructure as part of construction projects and in retrofit projects to reduce stormwater runoff in more areas of the city. Green Street and Green Alley projects utilize green infrastructure techniques and may be constructed where watershed and infrastructure improvements are prioritized.
The District of Columbia believes that trees are a great investment for the local community. Trees have been shown to increase property value, improve public health and safety, absorb and reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, create shade, and mitigate the urban heat island. In Washington, DC, trees also help clean the Anacostia River and its watershed while creating a more diverse ecosystem for wildlife to thrive. In addition, trees foster social and educational opportunities and provide aesthetic benefits for residents.