Planning a Sustainable Tree Canopy for Durham

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Trees are a vital part of a city’s infrastructure. The urban forest provides many ecosystem services to residents including health benefits, air pollution removal, extreme heat reduction, stormwater mitigation, and even lower violent crime rates. Durham, North Carolina is 52% covered by trees, but its canopy is declining from urban development, and it is unevenly distributed due to a history of racial and socioeconomic inequity. Parts of the city that are more urbanized, non-white, and poor tend to have far less tree cover than more rural, white, affluent areas. This Masters Project sought to help TreesDurham and the City of Durham plan a sustainable tree canopy that meets the city’s goal of 55% cover by 2040. Expansion of Durham’s urban forest must address the concerns of the community, maximize ecosystem services, and consider possible changes to city development codes. We addressed these needs by (1) conducting a community survey to understand Durham residents’ attitudes towards city trees, (2) creating a tree-planting prioritization map based on ecosystem services, and (3) modeling the future of Durham’s urban forest under multiple development scenarios. We recommend that TreesDurham and the City of Durham (1) incorporate input from Durham residents, (2) target tree-planting to the areas that need tree ecosystem services the most, including heavily urbanized areas and roadside rights-of-way, and (3) greatly increase tree protection requirements in Durham’s development code. This will ensure that all residents of Durham enjoy access to the benefits of the urban forest.





Hancock, Grace, Alex Vanko and Mingfei Xiong (2020). Planning a Sustainable Tree Canopy for Durham. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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