Image courtesy of Leominster GGCP

The Baker-Polito Administration recently announced the expansion of the Greening the Gateway Cities Program (GGCP) to the cities of Fitchburg, Lowell, Salem, and Westfield, and awarded $370,000 in grants to 11 cities and 10 non-profit organizations to support tree planting in urban communities through the program.

Through GGCP, the Department of Conservation and Recreation works with 18 Gateway Cities throughout the Commonwealth to increase tree canopy cover in urban residential areas, especially Environmental Justice neighborhoods.

“The Greening the Gateway Cities Program serves as an excellent example of a strong partnership between state government, local municipalities, and dedicated organizations working together to benefit Massachusetts residents for generations to come,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Increasing tree cover in our Gateway Cities helps to both address climate change and create a healthier environment for urban residents, and we are proud to add these four cities to this program.”

“By adding the cities of Fitchburg, Lowell, Salem, and Westfield into the Greening the Gateway Cities Program, our Administration continues to invest in the future of these cities and further enhance our environmental resources,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We look forward to working with these cities to plant thousands of trees, delivering significant benefits to residents in these communities and helping the Commonwealth make progress toward its long-term climate goals.”

The Greening the Gateway Cities Program seeks to reduce energy use, reducing flooding from stormwater runoff, and improve the quality of life in these cities, especially during the increasingly hot summers in Massachusetts, through the planting of thousands of trees. Trees have the ability to cool neighborhoods and reduce the “urban heat island” effect where large areas of pavement cause significantly hotter living conditions.

The plantings will be focused in Environmental Justice neighborhoods, which include areas with over 25% of residents who are low income, minority or non-English speaking. DCR foresters will work with neighborhood non-profit organizations to help with outreach and community support.

“With the expansion of the Greening the Gateway Cities Program, we are improving equity in communities with significantly less greenery and shade, improving the quality of life for residents by providing cooler neighborhoods and lowering energy bills,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “A significant expansion in trees also means cleaner air, less flooding, more beautiful neighborhoods, and a boost to the local economy by creating jobs at local nurseries and within the neighborhoods for tree planting.”

To support the GGCP, the state will invest over $5 million over the next year in state capital and energy efficiency funds to plant over 8,000 trees averaging six feet in height within the 18 Gateway Cities. The program will train crews in proper tree planting and care, and many employees find permanent work in the landscaping industry. The GGCP is expected to yield more than twice the investment made by the Administration as the trees mature.The announcement also includes the launch of two new grant programs, the Greening the Gateway City Municipal Grant Program and Greening the Gateway City Non-Profit Grant Program, which make funds available to Gateway Cities and local non-profits for program assistance. By lessening local costs, municipal grants give public works resources they need to plant in collaboration with DCR.

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation is proud to support this worthwhile program by partnering with cities throughout the Commonwealth, including our new partners in Fitchburg, Lowell, Salem, and Westfield,” said DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery. “This program stands as a wonderful example of the Baker-Polito Administration’s dedication to developing the necessary tools to effectively implement an urban forestry plan and protect our environment.”

The Administration is awarding grants to 10 local non-profits in the Gateway Cities to support outreach and tree care, and to 11 municipalities to support public tree planting with the removal of pavement and other impervious material, and the addition of soils and permeable material. Cities and non-profits are also working on locating and restoring vacant lots to ready them for tree planting.

With a defined goal to increase the urban tree canopy to 5-10 percent in select neighborhoods in each Gateway City, the program is expected to reduce heating and cooling costs by approximately $230 a year for an average household, once the trees reach maturity. To date, the program has planted over 27,000 trees in 14 Gateway Cities – the equivalent of adding 550 acres, or nearly one square mile, of new forest to these cities. Planting will continue in those cities in addition to the new cities being added this fall. Residents who sign-up for the GGCP will be provided planted trees at no cost as long as they commit to water the trees for two years.