How To Preserve Both Affordable Housing and Urban Trees

Housing and environmental activists are calling on the city to commit to a ‘Trees and’ approach, rejecting the perceived conflict between housing affordability and a healthy urban tree canopy.

April 26, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Pioneer Square, Seattle

DeymosHR / Shutterstock

An opinion piece by Joshua Morris and Laura Loe calls on Seattle city leaders to commit to both improving housing affordability and preserving and growing the urban tree canopy, arguing that conservation and affordable housing don’t have to be mutually exclusive. As Morris and Loe write, “Much of the controversy springs from exaggerated narratives that pit trees against development, affordable housing, transit, views, solar access, and utilities.”

The authors urge the city to take a different approach. “As Seattle begins to consider its next comprehensive plan, we ask the development community and urban forest advocacy groups to commit to a ‘Trees and’ approach instead. We must protect more big trees and house more neighbors.”

As the article notes, “The planning process is expected to integrate both climate change adaptation/mitigation and racial/social justice. Urban forestry goals can support both major themes.”

After all, urban trees are amazing stormwater managers and air purifiers, plus they help cool our communities. Density advocates, motivated by concerns over the climate emergency and a desire to reduce transportation modes dependent on fossil fuels, should speak loudly on behalf of strengthening our urban tree canopy.

The authors pose some critical questions to consider as the city begins updating its comprehensive plan: “Whose financial responsibility should it be to maintain street trees and residential trees? Will decisions around tree canopy use a Race and Social Justice analysis? Can we move beyond parking strips and reclaim parking lanes for trees? How do we move away from poisonous, colonial, bourgeois lawns? Might we reforest some of Seattle’s public golf course spaces?”

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