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Baltimore Mayor O’Malley Uses Urban Forest to Reduce Storm Water Pollution

July 3, 2006

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and the Parks & People Foundation’s Watershed 263 project is a unique, visionary collaboration. It not only brings together a diverse group of stakeholders (56 organizations to date) and demonstrates exceptional public/private partnerships, but also shows the comprehensive integration of the social, economic and environmental restoration that can be achieved through the use of trees.

Watershed 263 is a project initiated by the city of Baltimore that aimed to revitalize inner city communities by using urban forestry watershed projects to measurably improve both water quality and quality of life. The project began in 2003 and is scheduled to be completed by 2008 with the implementation of 107 forestry projects that will accomplish a 25 percent reduction in storm water pollution.

The goals of the project include: First prepare and implement an innovative urban watershed forestry restoration plan. Second, implement demonstration projects to create a healthy urban forestry that affect environmental, community health, and quality of life outcomes. Utilize nonstructural forestry restoration techniques to create additional pervious surfaces, Third, improve resource management outcomes by better coordinating the existing public expenditures.

In reaching these goals, the city hoped to produce cleaner and green neighborhoods, keep the area safe and drug-free, promote good schools and housing, create more opportunities for walking and physical recreation in green open spaces, cleaner air and water, and charging the community with a greater sense of pride.

O’Malley felt restoring urban watershed ecosystems is critical to reversing the decline in urban population centers like Baltimore as people and businesses today seek connections with healthy, clean and green environments. Baltimore’s urban forest currently falls below important national thresholds for ecological values, including water quality, terrestrial and aquatic habitat, and open space for recreation and renewal.

Restoring the health of urban forests and water quality to levels that adequately support the ecosystem’s function and processes required long-term partnerships directed by the values of local communities and ecological opportunities presented by the surrounding landscape. In Watershed 263, storm water carries trash, multiple types of bacteria, significant heavy metals, nutrients, and other pollutants that converge into a 25-foot outflow structure near the mouth of the Patapsco River. This particular branch of the river is an area the city and private developers are interested in redeveloping into a mixed land-use development. This development necessitates improved water quality.

Baltimore has significantly increased the quality of life in its watershed communities by revitalizing the areas with increased urban tree canopy, reduction of litter and dumping in the area, creating special community open spaces, improving city parks, greening schoolyards where asphalt had been removed, promoting and increasing recycling, and supporting community stewardship and involvement. The effects of these accomplishments have been wide reaching and have positively affected the community’s quality of life.

The opinions of community members were an important part of the revitalization process. Team members consistently solicited citizen opinions about urban trees and shared their knowledge about the benefit of trees at town hall meetings and forums they held.

After participating in the project, team members and residents found greater quality in their living, working, and learning environments. Residents reported feeling better about the place where they live including pride in inviting friends to see they changes they helped make happen.

Though the project itself focuses on forestry, the mission of the project supports a wide range of effects. The Parks & People Foundation’s programs include youth reading camps, sports programs, and the “SuperKids” Summer Camp. The project has also helped train young residents who participated in the youth “Green Teams” for future employment. The adults, too, have found jobs based on the skills they gained through the process.

Other education improvements exhibited through this project have been:

The schoolyard greenings have been received well by the students who participated and the results have been enjoyed by everyone.

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods started a paper recycling initiative in the watershed schools.

KidsGrow, Park & People’s after-school environmental education program, provides programs for 120 kids per year.

Provided a year-long professional development training program for watershed teachers that will strengthen the interest of the school system in greening projects for enhanced academic instruction.

A Watershed Ecology Center has been established as a way to share additional environmental education information with students and adults. Project officials have noted the increase in awareness and ability to speak to urban environmental issues by residents of all ages.

For more information, please contact Jacqueline Carrera of the Parks & People Foundation, Stieff Silver Building, 800 Wyman Park Drive, Suite 010 Baltimore, Maryland 21211, or visit

The Home Depot Foundation, in partnership with the Conference of Mayors, was very pleased to present the inaugural Awards of Excellence in Community Trees. The recipients were announced during a session of the Conference’s Annual Meeting on June 4, 2006. The award recipients were selected because they exemplify successful collaborations between nonprofit organizations and cities that demonstrate that healthy, safe and economically vibrant communities can be achieved through innovative and strategic planning and successful implementation of tree planting programs.