Somerville Enacts First-Of-Its-Kind Native Plant Ordinance Many similar ordinances encourage native planting without a specific metric, but Somerville has put percentage requirements on city space.
Alex Newman, Patch Staff Posted Wed, May 5, 2021
A native planting ordinance enacted in Somerville is believed to be the first of its kind in any urban environment. A native planting ordinance enacted in Somerville is believed to be the first of its kind in any urban environment.
SOMERVILLE, MA — Somerville has passed a native planting ordinance that establishes minimum requirements for native plants and trees to be planted in city-owned parks, open spaces and streets. The legislation, which applies to new plantings carried out by the city or on behalf of the city, defines native plants and trees as those with origins in North America east of the Mississippi River. It requires that native species constitute 100 percent of all new plantings in any City-owned land on the Community Path, the Green Line Extension corridor and riverfront areas; at least 75 percent of new plantings in city-owned parks; and at least 50 percent of street trees and new plantings in bioswales, plazas, streetscapes, and other City-owned property, subject to certain exemptions.
Somerville's policy is believed to be the first of its kind in any city because it includes percentage requirements for planting native species across all landscape types, whereas similar legislation in other cities encourages doing so but without a specific metric. While the city already plants large numbers of native plants in its parks projects, the new law ensures native plantings will continue to be prioritized where appropriate. It also codifies Somerville's commitment to restoring and preserving native flora and fauna. "Protecting our natural environment is imperative both for our community's long-term health and residents' quality of life. Open space is precious in a densely populated city like Somerville, so we want to make sure we are creating the best green spaces possible," Mayor Joseph Curtatone said in a statement. "I appreciate the passionate advocacy of residents around this issue and the City Council's support and willingness to collaborate to create this Ordinance."
Native species in particular are foundational to healthy ecosystems because they provide food and habitat for native wildlife and pollinators like birds and insects. When planted in appropriate locations and under the right conditions, native plant species also may be able to grow easily once established and generally use fewer resources. "I'm proud to have proposed this Ordinance," Ward 7 City Councilor Katjana Ballantyne said. "This achievement was a collaborative effort. This would not have happened without the expertise, tireless efforts, and passion from Renee Scott, Victoria Antonino, Brendan Shea, and David Falk. With this Ordinance, we lead the country in restoring our natural urban ecosystem."
Some native plants and trees are not equipped to survive in Somerville today because they evolved thousands of years ago in an environment radically different from that of a modern-day city. Climate change is also expected to bring hotter temperatures and more severe weather events, so plantings installed now will need to tolerate more extreme heat, higher salt concentrations and longer periods of flooding and drought in the future. "Working with advocates and the Council has led to legislation that is nuanced and practical – it moves the needle forward on an important ecological goal and still allows the City to manage a municipal planting system and urban forest,"
Luisa Oliveira, director of Public Space and Urban Forestry, said. "In an urban environment like ours, there is a balance between finding plants and trees that will survive in the harshest conditions and planting native species that provide habitat for native birds and pollinators. This Ordinance ensures that, above all, the right plant can be selected for the right location."