Boston mayor speaks at GSD about urban forests, community resilience, and environmental justice 

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu attends the Harvard Graduate School of Design Symposium “Forest Futures: Will the Forest Save Us All?” The keynote response panel includes Harvard faculty members Gary Hilderbrand, William (Ned) Friedman, and Edward Eigen.

Photo by John Wilcox

2 min read

Describing herself as an avowed “tree hugger” from her childhood as part of an immigrant family, when a beloved tree afforded her a sense of peace, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu offered a forceful vision for the role of urban forests in her city’s push for environmental justice and climate resiliency. In the packed Piper Auditorium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Wu spoke of sharing her lifelong affection for vegetation with her own children, and how a deeply felt connection with trees informs her work advocating equitable provisions of urban forests and parks.

According to Wu, forested public spaces are much more than a pleasant amenity or even essential resources for public health and environmental well-being. “Parks uniquely create an opportunity for all of us to be in connection with each other,” she said. In so doing, they foster democratic values at a time when democracy itself is under threat.

“The forest may be the last place where we are truly in community with everyone,” she said.

Wu was a keynote speaker on the opening evening of “Forest Futures: Will the Forest Save Us All?”, a two-day academic symposium at the GSD organized by Gary Hilderbrand, Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, and Anita Berrizbeitia, professor of landscape architecture. The symposium brings together designers, researchers, and expert practitioners from various fields to address “risks and threats, initiatives and improved practices, and speculations on a more secure and more just future for metropolitan and urban forests and the species that inhabit them.” (Video recordings of the full symposium will be available online.)

Wu’s appearance coincided with the opening reception for the related exhibition, “Forest Futures,” on view in the Druker Design Gallery through March 31. Curated by Berrizbeitia, the exhibition features artworks, design projects, and research that explores how forests have become “designed environments.”

The themes of the conference and exhibition find expression in major policy initiatives, including Boston’s Urban Forest Plan, released in 2022. Created in part to redress the legacies of inequality and environmental injustice, the plan identifies strategies to engage Boston’s different communities to “prioritize, preserve, and grow our tree canopy.”