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Municipal leaders are pursuing ambitious goals to increase urban tree canopy (UTC), but there is little understanding of the pace and socioecological drivers of UTC change. We analyzed land cover change in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (United States) from 1970–2010 to examine the impacts of post-industrial processes on UTC. We interpreted land cover classes using aerial imagery and assessed historical context using archival newspapers, agency reports, and local historical scholarship. There was a citywide UTC increase of +4.3 percentage points. Substantial UTC gains occurred in protected open spaces related to both purposeful planting and unintentional forest emergence due to lack of maintenance, with the latter phenomenon well-documented in other cities located in forested biomes. Compared to developed lands, UTC was more persistent in protected open spaces. Some neighborhoods experienced substantial UTC gains, including quasi-suburban areas and depopulated low-income communities; the latter also experienced decreasing building cover. We identified key processes that drove UTC increases, and which imposed legacies on current UTC patterns: urban renewal, urban greening initiatives, quasi-suburban developments, and (dis)investments in parks. Our study demonstrates the socioecological dynamism of intra-city land cover changes at multi-decadal time scales and the crucial role of local historical context in the interpretation of UTC change.




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Human-Urban Green Space Interactions and Their Integration into Urban and Green Space Planning and Management




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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.