Podcast | Who owns the trees outside your window?

Crosscut reporter Hannah Weinberger discusses the Seattle policy that many homeowners don't even know exists.

street tree Seattle

A tree with caution tape over a low branch in Wallingford on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Trees along the streets live in terrible conditions: surrounded by car exhaust, bumped by unskilled vehicle parkers, subject to construction mishaps and sometimes even knocked over in car crashes. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

“Street trees” are the ones that line a city’s medians, roads and sidewalks. They beautify and provide wildlife habitat, of course, but they also help mitigate climate change.  That’s part of why the health of Seattle’s street trees is so vital to the city’s goal of increasing its diminishing tree canopy.

But while they’re technically on publicly accessible land, maintaining street trees is not the city’s responsibility; their upkeep is the financial responsibility of the adjacent homeowner.

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Crosscut science and environment reporter Hannah Weinberger found that out after exploring just how complicated caring for this part of the urban canopy really is. It’s expensive, and often people don’t know that street-tree care is up to them until they run into something major like a sidewalk uplift. It’s a common situation in many other cities, too.

For this episode of the Crosscut Reports podcast, host Sara Bernard talks with Hannah about the problem of street trees. As Hannah puts it, she wanted to get “people to think about, how does our city handle the maintenance sharing for public goods? And whose responsibility really should it be to do that care?” Figuring this out could go a long way toward making Seattle greener, healthier and more resilient.

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