Case Study


Washington, DC’s Urban Forestry Division: An All-of-the-Above Approach to Public Engagement


Photo credit: District of Columbia Government

The DC Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division uses a variety of approaches to reach every resident they can.

Washington, DC

Humid subtropical


47.7% Black, 36.4% White, 10.9% Hispanic, 4.1% Asian, 0.6% Native American

Within Washington, DC’s 68 square miles resides a staggering range of residents, from literally the most powerful people in the world at any given time to some of the most disenfranchised. In between is a spectrum ranging from some of the most tech savvy young professionals to elderly residents who have never used a computer.

One component that binds them all is living under the District’s public trees on streets, parks and school grounds. Managing an urban forest is a very collaborative experience between the professionals and the residents keeping an eye on the trees in their community for issues or opportunities for planting. However, service requests for new trees, pruning, or to inspect a potentially dying tree usually come from wealthier neighborhoods, meaning city arborists need to patrol streets in lower income areas looking for potential hazards and opportunities for new trees.

Eliminating this imbalance by reaching as many of those residents as possible requires an array of engagement techniques. Some are easy to reach with the latest technologies, while others require significant human engagement. DC’s Urban Forestry Division is pursuing all of those options:

Tree Services Schedule Website:

Linked to nearly real time updates from arborists in the field, this ArcGIS-based mapping provides transparent sharing of management decisions that develop trust with the community.  These maps share DC’s Urban Forestry Division’s removal and planting decisions, as they make them, and are quite popular with the public.

Street Trees of DC Website:

DC’s Urban Forestry Division averages more than 300 tree inspections each day, and all of that information is shared in real-time with the public. This not only helps with information transfer, but also helps residents see their tax dollars are being used efficiently.

Green Infrastructure in the ROW:

This map lets residents and others track green infrastructure installations in public space throughout the city. The features displayed are attributed and described based on the nomenclature outlined in the DC’s Green Design Manual for Public Spaces. This map includes all standard green infrastructure, as well as pervious FlexiPave locations. Photos are attached in most cases.

Tree Watering Application

This app helps people locate newly planted trees near their home or work, and record their stewardship activities. People can attach photos of themselves watering the trees and also report other issues they think warrant attention. By clicking the “Learn More” button, an interactive map journal launches that provides stunning photos and engaging text on many of the most common street trees in DC.

Community Engagement

For residents without easy access to computers, DC’s Urban Forestry Division partnered with local nonprofit Earth Conservation Corps, American Forests and the US Forest Service. They first identified areas of the city with low income residents and declining tree canopy. They then tested a variety of engagement strategies, including door-to-door visits by young adults from the community to both share information and listen to feedback, as well as leave specially-designed door hangers to promote all free and discounted tree services provided by the city and local nonprofits. Partners also used robo-calls, community meetings and the public service announcement in the title link that played on DC public access government television, which has a monthly audience of 300,000 viewers, including City Hall staff.

They saw a noticeable increase in tree service requests from these areas, though they still pale in comparison to wealthier parts of the city. However, the percent increase was significant and laid a foundation for further engagement.

  • Municipal budget for websites
  • US Forest Service Northeastern Area grant for the lower income community engagement efforts
  • DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division
  • Earth Conservation Corps
  • US Forest Service
  • American Forests
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