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Norwalk (CT) Mayor Moccia Raises Public Awareness of Urban Forestry, Beautifies City in One Stroke

August 7, 2006


Norwalk (CT) was awarded with Best Urban Forestry Project in the small city category (for cities with populations under 100,000) by the Home Depot Foundation, in cooperation with The United States Conference of Mayors for renovating the health of its urban forestry community, which revitalized the community as a whole.

The Norwalk Urban Forest Improvement Project brings together, expands and synergizes a broad array of tree-related programs that were previously functioning on their own, with noticeable but localized success.

Tree planting and replacement programs are coordinated with tree removal and trimming programs so that a more comprehensive and positive impact can be brought to affected areas throughout the city and to the city as a whole. Increased resident and merchant participation is specifically targeted in the project so as to further the education of the public, cultivate interest in the environmental and aesthetic value of trees, and improve the quality of the Norwalk urban forest more rapidly.

Like most New England communities, Norwalk is blessed with a broad and plentiful variety of tree species, but is not heavily forested. Unlike its neighboring cities, who have remained suburbs to New York City, Norwalk’s harbors encourage the development of economy and industry. The industrialization and commercialization of the city was accompanied by the deforesting of large land sections to provide space for factories, offices, shipyards and other commercial endeavors. Even today, despite heavy and largely desirable forest in the north and southwest, the tree stock in much of the inner, western and southern portions of the city remains. Not long after the turn of the century, and due largely to soaring property values in the surrounding communities, interest in Norwalk residential development grew exponentially and with it grew renewed interest from city residents in quality of life issues. Key among those issues has been the aesthetic and environmental benefits of a well-managed urban forest. The principal urban forestry management concerns are reforestation of barren areas, responsible trimming by electric utilities, and general re-beautification of the community.

In addition to the enactment of a tree ordinance and the creation of the Tree Advisory Committee, a number of tree-related initiatives were spawned or re-energized by the city Administration. Although each initiative pursued goals and achieved results, each also functioned separately from the others and opportunities for unity were not being realized. In 2004, the Tree Advisory Committee and Tree Warden recognized that greater accomplishments and broader benefits could be achieved for the city if the various programs and initiatives were brought together. This created the Urban Forest Improvement Project.

Objectives of the project were to:

  • Cultivate public knowledge on the value of trees to the community and expand volunteer participation in tree programs.

  • Educate young people on the contributions that trees make to their lives and encourage early participation in tree programs.

  • Encourage responsible removal and trimming of trees and coordinate removals and trimming with planting and replacement.

  • Restore trees to barren residential and commercial areas of the city.

  • Plant trees, particularly in neighborhoods that will contribute to the restoration of once pristine tree-lined streets.

  • Improve the environment and the overall aesthetic appearance and feel of the city as a whole.

Education has been an important aspect of the project. Local school children were encouraged to participate during a celebration of Arbor Day. At the event, fifth-graders helped the mayor announce the naming of Norwalk as a “Tree City” by the Arbor Day Foundation. Other students sang songs about the beauty and importance of trees as a part of every healthy environmental community, and others assisted in the planting of new trees on school grounds.

The most important resources for this project were time, interest, and support. Once the city leaders demonstrated commitment through the city’s tree ordinance, Tree Advisory Committee, and the funding for the project, time and interest began to grow. That commitment has remained and, as cooperation and results continue to expand, so does growing interest and participation by residents and businesses. The Tree Advisory Committee remains the principal management entity for the project and attendance at its meetings grows monthly. Neighborhood plans and requests also continue to grow and the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations has taken on a significant leadership role, as well. The sense of ownership and accountability among all participants is clear.

The Norwalk Urban Forest Improvement Project is more than a single project sited at a single location; it is the comprehensive coordination of multiple tree-related projects so that the unified benefits to the city will exceed the benefits its parts were taking individually. What the project has achieved, and will continue to achieve for years to come, is a source of great pride for the entire community. “This project has taken a natural asset that many in New England take for granted and expanded it into a quality-of-life initiative that will have lasting impacts across our community for decades,” Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said in a statement. The project has been a great success for city officials, and the benefits have been far-reaching.

For more information, contact Harold Alvord at 203-854-7791 or send e-mail to halvord@norwalkct.org.