Engaging and Motivating Stakeholders

In most communities, the majority of tree canopy sits on privately-owned lands. To achieve green infrastructure and tree canopy goals, you must influence what residents, businesses, and institutions do on their own property. Just as important, no municipal initiative – even if implemented solely on public lands – can endure without strong and broad community support.

Meeting this challenge demands more than just education. More than anything else, successful green infrastructure initiatives rely on true engagement.

Let Residents Be Process Owners

Many agencies and organizations engage neighborhood groups and provide them with training and tools to undertake their own tree inventory. By making these groups a part of the process from the beginning, residents can define their own needs and expectations and become equal partners in determining how to “green” their own neighborhood.

Every Neighborhood Should Count

Oftentimes, low-income and communities of color benefit least from green infrastructure and healthy urban forests initiatives. Even when officials begin with the intention to spread benefits across the entire community, many discover that they are unable to deliver on that promise.

In order to ensure that all communities reap equal benefits, create an engagement strategy that begins with identifying target neighborhoods, enlisting community leaders and institutions, educating them about the benefits of trees, and then training them to map and assess their own neighborhood trees. [See Let Residents be Process Owners.]

This process can enable community members to determine their own needs and expectations and then advocate for them effectively in community meetings, public hearings and forums, design charettes, and council deliberations.

At the same time, planners and policy makers must accept these stakeholders as partners in the process, i.e. meeting them on their own turf; accounting for cultural and language differences; opening continuing and consistent lines of communication through the plan’s completion; and soliciting their help to maintain and monitor the health of their neighborhood trees. See how Durham approached these goals. And find examples in PolicyLink’s guide to resident engagement in planning sustainable communities.

The “Gentrification Dilemma

Too often, “greening” low-income neighborhoods can drive long-time residents out, as property values and taxes rise. But it’s not inevitable. Planners and city officials can slow, even stop this process by committing developers up front to provide adequate housing for all income levels. And residents will engage more fully if they understand that maintaining their “sense of place” remains high on the planning agenda.



Show, Don't Tell

i-Tree software can show how your own community or neighborhoods would benefit from more urban forestry. It calculates and provides values for air, water, energy, climate and stormwater impacts. It then translates them into dollar terms that policymakers can understand. See for yourself!

Public Health

Urban forests help reduce a variety of physical and mental health issues, such as respiratory diseases and skin cancer, and promote an active lifestyle and sense of well-being.

  • In 15 states infected with emerald ash borer, an additional 15,000 people died from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more from lower respiratory disease compared with uninfected areas of the country.
  • Living near green space increases life expectancy by 11 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Obesity In New York City and levels of asthma are highest where tree density is the lowest, but the rate of childhood asthma is 29% lower for every 343 trees per square kilometer.

Air Quality

Trees clean the air. In the US, it’s estimated that trees remove more than 650,000 metric tons of air pollutants each year, avoiding costs of about $4.7 billion in health, lost productivity, and energy consumption.

  • Urban air pollution causes 200,000 premature deaths per year in the United States. Some 53,000 are associated with vehicle pollution, another 52,000 with power generation.
  • State forestry agencies promote action to plant trees as a means of reducing urban air pollution.

Energy Conservation

Trees can help reduce roughly 40 percent of all US energy consumption that is generated by residential and commercial buildings. In California, peak load reduction by existing trees saves utilities 10 percent – which is valued at approximately $778.5 million annually, or $4.39/tree.

Heat Island

Walk from a park into a city street, and you’ll experience first-hand what scientists call the urban heat island effect – and these urban heat islands are growing hotter. A recent year-to-year comparison by Climate Central showed that since 2004, 12 cities averaged at least 20 more days with temperatures above 90 degrees than adjacent rural areas.

Excessive heat events are particularly dangerous and can result in above-average rates of mortality. According to EPA, excessive heat exposure contributes to more than 8,000 premature deaths in the United States. This figure exceeds the number of deaths resulting from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. Find out how some communities are dealing with it.

Water Quality

Trees are often left out of the discussion on urban green infrastructure, yet studies show they have a significant impact on water quality and quantity, in addition to providing other benefits. The Center for Watershed Protection reviewed a total of 159 publications to evaluate:

  1. the effectiveness of urban tree planting on reducing runoff, nutrient and sediment pollution; and
  2. how effectiveness varies by species, over time, differences in planting sites and different maintenance strategies.

 Stormwater Managers: This paper offers detailed information about species, installation, survivability, and estimation of impact on both flow and pollutant reduction.

Property Values

Any realtor will tell you that landscaping makes a difference — not just in price but whether you’ll be able to sell at all. Additionally, the larger your trees, the more value they add to your property.

Economic Growth

Trees increase retail sales, attract shoppers from further away, and improve employee performance. And businesses are beginning to “get it.” Many business improvement districts, including the Golden Triangle in downtown Washington, D.C., are investing their own funds to “green” their streets and create more welcoming retail environments. This article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation reviews the research detailing the effect trees have on economic growth.


Nature is good for children. Being in or near green space, especially trees, has been shown to improve academic performance and even reduce symptoms of ADHD. In a study of 110 high schools in Michigan, researchers found a positive relationship between student exposure to nature during lunch time and scores on standardized tests, graduation rates, and plans to attend a four-year college.

Rules of Engagement

There are no hard and fast rules of engagement, but you can find many guides to making residents effective partners in your sustainability programs.


Yes, You Can Do The Math

From policymakers to your neighbors, most people feel better about solving problems when they understand the costs and benefits of different solutions. The Green Infrastructure Scenario Toolkit (GIST) provides a model for doing just that. While still in development, GIST demonstrates how to calculate the social, economic, and environmental benefits produced by a variety of different green infrastructure solutions – and compares them to gray infrastructure.

Borrow, Don't Build

Many organizations have developed outreach and education materials which demonstrate the multiple values of urban forests. Some are contained in the Resource Library.