Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Jayajit Chakraborty


Environmental Equity, Public right-of-way, sustainability, Tampa, Florida, Tree cover change, Urban forest


Street trees are an important component of the urban forest that can provide direct and indirect benefits to social and ecological sustainability in cities. Temporal and spatial interactions between human and non-human management agents determine the distribution and health of street tree populations in urban areas. This dissertation seeks to enhance our understanding of the spatial patterns and processes affecting street trees by investigating the agents and social-ecological determinants of changes to street tree distributions in urban residential neighborhoods. The research was guided by three primary questions: (1) Are recent changes to the spatial distribution of street trees influenced by socio-demographic household and neighborhood characteristics? (2) Which management agents are the strongest predictors of recent changes to street tree distributions and does the contribution of these agents vary in relationship to social-ecological patterns within a city? (3) To what extent are household street tree management decisions related to the built and bioecological material characteristics of the public right-of-way?

These questions were investigated in a case study that examined street tree management and public right-of-way (PROW) canopy change associated with single-family residential areas in and near the City of Tampa, Florida. The methodological approach employed a multi-method design using a conceptual framework developed to capture the complexity of management within human ecosystems. Urban remote sensing and spatial analytical techniques were used to examine the geographic association between patterns of street tree change and socio-demographic characteristics. Household survey techniques were utilized to examine the determinants of street tree management; specifically planting, removal, and trimming. Interviews with key informants familiar with urban forest management provided additional insights to complement the location specific knowledge of household survey respondents.

Street tree change was examined for the period of 2003 to 2006, and information about household management actions also included recent years (i.e., 2009-2011). A citywide pattern of street tree increases was disproportionately distributed with respect to socioeconomic status; with greater increases in affluent neighborhoods. Patterns of change within local portions of the study area revealed significant and spatially variable relationships with socioeconomic status, as well as race/ethnicity variables and indicators of lifestyle differences. The findings suggest that the citywide pattern of change associated with socioeconomic status may perpetuate an inequitable outcome in the distribution of street trees at the expense of less affluent neighborhoods. The local patterns of change indicate that the processes driving street tree distributions may also reflect differences in attitudes toward trees.

The case study did not find sufficient evidence to link the actions of individual agents with street tree change. Street tree increases were more likely in areas where tree trimming had been reported and where property market values were greater, but less likely in PROW segments with overhead power lines. Households, public agencies and builders, but not neighborhoods, were the primary human street tree management agents. Past and ongoing land development and redevelopment decisions, including the configuration of PROW infrastructures, may be one of the most important factors affecting patterns of street tree change. Landscape decisions and practices influenced by household and neighborhood group dynamics also appear to be important factors affecting street tree change. Damages caused by storm event and differences in tree species lifecycle characteristics represent important non-human agents of street tree change.

The findings indicated that public agencies are not the only managers of street trees and household tree management does not stop at the boundary of private property. There was no evidence of a relationship between household management actions and the material conditions of the PROW. However, there was a relationship between the presence of either power lines or sidewalks and household survey responses about who should bear responsibility for street tree management and the liability. Household respondents expressed an increased sense of personal responsibility for street tree management when a sidewalk was in front of their home.

This dissertation addressed an important gap in understanding about the factors driving street tree change. Planting, removal, and trimming of street trees in Tampa is a shared responsibility with complex spatial patterns and multi-scalar drivers. An important conclusion is that the sustainability of street tree populations within the urban forest will require urban planners and managers to better understand how these management agents cooperate if they are to promote healthy, safe and beneficial street tree populations as a part of the urban forest.