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Charlotte Talks: How To Preserve Our Trees In A Growing City

Uptown Charlotte is seen Sept. 20, 2019, from Suttle Avenue.
Dashiell Coleman
Uptown Charlotte is seen Sept. 20, 2019, from Suttle Avenue.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Charlotte is known for its vast tree canopy, a quality most major cities lack. But as the city spurs development, the forest is thinning: Charlotte’s tree canopy fell from 49% to 45% from 2012 to 2018.

The recent study from the University of Vermont and TreesCharlotte notes the city lost roughly 250,000 trees in that period.

In 2011, city council created a goal of 50% tree coverage in the city by 2050. Leaders have recently begun backing off that target, however, noting it “was never tied to any regulatory aspects of land use planning.”

In an attempt to slow the decline, changes to the city’s tree ordinance last year have made it easier for developers to meet requirements by planting on rooftops, planters, or plazas. And the city is currently developing a new “Tree Canopy Action Plan,” with updated policies for the canopy.

The benefits of a lush canopy are more than aesthetics – they improve air quality, reduce storm water runoff and increase property value.

Canopy decline is not inevitable – while Charlotte lost almost 10,000 acres of trees from 2012 to 2018, it also gained over 2,000 in other parts of the city, suggesting certain areas or neighborhoods could help curb the trend.

As Charlotte aims to meet the needs of development, affordable housing and public transit, the city’s tree canopy is put at risk. We gaze through the canopy to see how a growing city can hold onto its roots.


Alyson Craig, deputy planning director for the City of Charlotte

Tim Porter, chief urban forester and Tree Canopy Action Plan project manager for the City of Charlotte

Ely Portillo, assistant director of Outreach & Strategic Partnerships at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute

Chuck Cole, executive director for TreesCharlotte

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Jesse Steinmetz is Producer of Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he was an intern at WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut and hosted a show at Eastern Connecticut State University.