In 2016, a group of Massachusetts planners, public health professionals, and members of the American Planning Association partnered with Groundwork Lawrence on a health impact assessment (HIA) framework to measure the economic, social, and environmental impacts of planting street trees in the Arlington and South Common neighborhoods in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a city with a nearly 80 percent Hispanic population.
The tree-planting initiative was part of Groundwork’s Green Streets Program, a three-year effort to promote energy efficiency with green infrastructure elements, such as street trees. Urban forestry plays an important role in stormwater management, air quality, climate resiliency, and aesthetics in neighborhoods, and street trees also enhance residents’ mental health, physical activity, and social interaction.
The HIA team conducted original research, collected local data, and gathered input from community members to evaluate how planting additional street trees might affect health concerns in the target neighborhoods. The team also used the process to engage and educate local leaders and residents and build support for increasing urban tree cover in Lawrence.
The project differed from a traditional HIA because it combined research with the development of innovative community resources to help the Green Streets Program meet its goals, help residents understand the environmental, social, and economic benefits of street trees, and tailor species selection to community environmental and health issues, such as flooding and asthma. Those resources included:
The team designed the materials to be replicable and adaptable for any community looking to develop a healthy urban tree canopy and promote sustainable approaches to neighborhood development. The HIA report also provided a series of recommendations for fostering the planting of and care for future street trees:
All key materials were translated into Spanish and have been used by Groundwork Lawrence to help promote their Green Streets Program to city residents and show the economic, social, environmental, and health benefits that street trees provide. The team developed the HIA to be adaptable and used by any community or organization to promote the importance of green infrastructure to improving the health and well-being of neighborhood residents.