The event is sponsored in part by Waste Management, US Bank, McCarty Holsaple McCarty, First Neighborhoods Realty, Fox & Fogarty, East Tennessee Community Design Center, and KBrew.
A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered Wednesday evening in the ballroom at the Civic Coliseum near downtown to take part in the official launching of the process that is slated to produce the plan.
“You’ll find out how it will impact you, how this can impact and benefit communities all across our city, and how to be involved,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon, who introduced the program. “We would not be here without everybody’s team efforts, and I cannot wait to see how this master plan is going to be a game changer for our city.”
Kasey Krouse, who heads up Knoxville’s Urban Forestry Division, explained that trees are vital amenities that improve air and water quality, boost property values, and reduce stress. He also described how the local government’s approach to trees has evolved over the past decade.
Approximately 38 percent of land in Knoxville — nearly 24,000 acres — is covered by urban canopy, with 14,000 of those acres on private residential property.
The good news, he said, is that the city has lost only one percent of its urban canopy since 2012, he said. That adds up to 732 acres (an area the size of 552 football fields) of forest, the vast majority of it on private land.
“Believe it or not, downtown saw an increase in tree cover over the 10-year period,” he said.
He went on to describe the results of a detailed inventory of approximately 100,000 trees in the city limits that provided key insights into how the urban canopy is distributed through the city’s 60 neighborhoods.
“The survey was accurate down to a meter of where all the trees are in Knoxville,” Krouse said. “There is a tremendous difference from one neighborhood to another.”
Woodlawn, the western half of Fountain City, and Island Home has the highest concentrations of trees, with well over 50 percent of their land area covered by canopy. Unsurprisingly, the neighborhoods with the least amount of canopy were Fort Sanders, downtown, and the warehouse district.
One of the most important findings to be gleaned from the assessment was that “tree equity” is a vital issue that impacts the quality of life throughout the urban area, he explained.
“As household income goes up, so does tree canopy,” said Krouse. “As household income goes down, so does tree canopy.”
Bringing more trees to communities that lack them is a top priority and is expected to drive how the plan allocates resources.
Rachel Comte of Urban Canopy Works, a consulting firm from northern Kentucky, laid out the next step toward developing the Master Plan for Wednesday’s audience.
She said the next phase, labeled “Discovery,” will use research, online forms, and face-to-face meetings to gauge the wishes of the community.
She told the crowd — many of whom are already deeply involved in conservation issues through work or volunteerism — to invite officials working on the plan to speak to their respective groups.
“We know that nobody wants to come to yet another meeting,” she said. “We would really like to come to you.”
Only 24 hours before Wednesday’s project launch, City Council had voted to give $50,000 to Trees Knoxville to complete the project.
The official interest in urban forests has been a fixture of the mayoral administrations of both Kincannon and her predecessor, Madeline Rogero, who hired Krouse as Knoxville’s first urban forester in 2012.
In 2020, crews under the direction of Krouse planted 785 trees at schools, parks and public rights-of-way. More than 30,000 trees are maintained in public spaces, according to figures provided by the city.
Knoxville is one of only 38 cities in the U.S. (and one of 120 cities worldwide) to be recognized as Tree Cities of the World, which means its urban forestry programs are part of a global network recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
The master plan project’s other partners include the Knoxville Utilities Board, the Tennessee Division of Forestry, and Keep Knoxville Beautiful.