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Growing Canopy on a College Campus: Understanding Urban Forest Change through Archival Records and Aerial Photography

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Roman, Lara A.; Fristensky, Jason P.; Eisenman, Theodore S.; Greenfield, Eric J.; Lundgren, Robert E.; Cerwinka, Chloe E.; Hewitt, David A.; Welsh, Caitlin C.

Year Published

2017

Publication

Environmental Management

Abstract

Many municipalities are setting ambitious tree canopy cover goals to increase the extent of their urban forests. A historical perspective on urban forest development can help cities strategize how to establish and achieve appropriate tree cover targets. To understand how long-term urban forest change occurs, we examined the history of trees on an urban college campus: the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. Using a mixed methods approach, including qualitative assessments of archival records (1870–2017), complemented by quantitative analysis of tree cover from aerial imagery (1970–2012), our analysis revealed drastic canopy cover increase in the late 20th and early 21st centuries along with the principle mechanisms of that change. We organized the historical narrative into periods reflecting campus planting actions and management approaches; these periods are also connected to broader urban greening and city planning movements, such as City Beautiful and urban sustainability. University faculty in botany, landscape architecture, and urban design contributed to the design of campus green spaces, developed comprehensive landscape plans, and advocated for campus trees. A 1977 Landscape Development Plan was particularly influential, setting forth design principles and planting recommendations that enabled the dramatic canopy cover gains we observed, and continue to guide landscape management today. Our results indicate that increasing urban tree cover requires generational time scales and systematic management coupled with a clear urban design vision and long-term commitments. With the campus as a microcosm of broader trends in urban forest development, we conclude with a discussion of implications for municipal tree cover planning.

Citation

Roman, Lara A.; Fristensky, Jason P.; Eisenman, Theodore S.; Greenfield, Eric J.; Lundgren, Robert E.; Cerwinka, Chloe E.; Hewitt, David A.; Welsh, Caitlin C. 2017. Growing Canopy on a College Campus: Understanding Urban Forest Change through Archival Records and Aerial Photography. Environmental Management. 60(6): 1042-1061. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0934-0.

Last updated on: September 25, 2018