Green Gazette: Urban Tree Nursery Project

Check out how the city of Savannah, Georgia, is helping to grow the urban forest, enhance workforce skills, and engage community youth with its Urban Tree Nursery.

| February/March 2021

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This lot-turned-nursery on Mills B. Lane Boulevard is one of three places where saplings are being grown. Photo by City of Savannah

Urban Tree Nursery Project

An early nickname for the city of Savannah, Georgia was “the Forest City.” It’s known for its ample oak trees, which shade city streets and provide environmental resilience. But in recent years, these trees have been suffering damage and dwindling because of city development and an increase in intense storm events. This damage costs the city millions in debris removal and environmental degradation, and the species that have long stood tall in Savannah are diminished.

In 2018, Savannah received a two-year grant that would allow for “equitable solutions to local climate change challenges.” Nick Deffley, the city’s environmental services and sustainability director, says recipients of the grant were required to mitigate climate change impacts related to either energy or water. Because of its coastal location, Savannah chose water — with a focus on trees. After receiving the funding, Savannah set three goals for its Urban Tree Nursery Project: Grow the urban forest, enhance workforce skills, and engage community youth.

According to the city, increased tree canopy can reduce stormwater runoff and soil erosion, reduce water pollution, sequester carbon dioxide, lower heating and cooling costs, and more. To begin, the Project identified three vacant lots that were formerly residential properties that routinely flooded. These blighted city lots number in the hundreds and are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. The Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased the lots from the residential owners, and then gave the lots to the city to manage in perpetuity.



Next, the city purchased and planted 550 saplings at a reduced cost, choosing salt-water-tolerant species that are native to the Southeast and Georgia to better withstand the encroaching impacts of more extreme floods, storm events, and sea level rise. The saplings grow in pots with drip irrigation for up to three years, until they reach a maturity level that allows the city, or a local tree foundation, to plant them or give them away to private property owners in flood-prone areas.

Through the growth of this urban forest, the city has implemented the Project’s social equity and community engagement elements. To provide a pathway into the workforce, the Project offers a paid landscape-management apprenticeship. The apprentices participate in part-time on-site training while working toward a Georgia Certified Landscape Professional accreditation, provided through the University of Georgia’s Center for Urban Agriculture. After their training, the apprentices can manage trees at these urban nurseries and receive GED training and additional job-placement services.






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