Back of Sidewalk Program

Sweetgum at 288 Kent Street

established sweetgum tree in someone's front yard

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

The Tree Planting Committee oversees the "Back of Sidewalk" program, which aims to enhance Brookline’s urban canopy by planting trees on private property within 20 feet of the public right of way. Through this successful program which began in the 1930s, over 11,000 street trees have been planted in Brookline. Private land generally provides a more conducive environment for tree growth than the public way, as private property is less susceptible to urban stressors such as de-icing salt, foot traffic, and pet waste.

The purpose of the "Back of Sidewalk” program is to:

  1. Expand the diversity of the urban forest to enhance the resiliency of the urban canopy;
  2. Increase the number of trees contributing to and benefiting Brookline’s streetscapes;
  3. Utilize land near the public way that is more conducive to tree growth than the public way itself.

HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS

The Town Arborist and the Tree Planting Committee work with residents to review private site conditions and recommend an appropriate tree that is suitable for the specific location.

Criteria for species selection include:

  • Street width and existing street trees
  • Lot size in relationship to the building footprint
  • Available sunlight and soil conditions

HOW TO REQUEST A BACK OF SIDEWALK TREE

To participate in the program, a Tree Planting and Maintenance Agreement (PDF) needs to be completed and returned to: 

Tom Brady, Tree Warden

Brookline Parks and Open Space Division

333 Washington Street

Brookline, MA 02445

Or via email to Katie Weatherseed, Conservation Assistant, at kweatherseed@brooklinema.gov.

Once you have submitted the agreement, the Tree Warden and members of the Tree Planting Committee will meet with you to help you select a tree from the Town’s existing tree inventory that will be well suited to the environmental conditions of your property. Each year, the Town has several varieties of shade and ornamental trees available for planting through the Back of Sidewalk Program. Applications are accepted throughout the year, and planting typically takes place beginning in April and running through November. The planting schedule is dependent on seasonal conditions, crew schedule, and plant availability.

To aid the Tree Warden and the Tree Planting Committee in understanding the particular conditions of yoru site, please complete a simple small sketch diagram of your property. It should include the following:

  • House footprint (layout position of your house in relation to the street and sidewalk from above)
  • Location of above ground and below ground power lines and gas or water lines (as known)
  • Existing trees, shrubs, garden beds, fences or walls
  • Existing driveway and walkways
  • Existing street trees or neighboring trees including approximate size and height
  • Proposed location of Back of Sidewalk tree. The drawing may be drawn by hand or computer generated – it only needs to be a sketch but please be as accurate as possible.

Because this program serves primarily to enhance the streetscape, the tree must be completely visible from the street and planted within 20 feet of the sidewalk.

“Since a tree on a narrow sidewalk when well grown becomes an obstruction to pedestrians, the planting of shade trees on private land a short distance from the sidewalk is of value in a town like Brookline, and it is so recognized by a special act permitting such planting.”

Emma Cummings, Tree Planting Committee Member (1938)

BACK OF SIDEWALK TREES 

Below is a representative list of species that are usually available. Please note that each year's available species are dependent upon the Town's purchased nursery stock. We encourage you to contact the Tree Planting Committee if you are interested in a particular species not included in the list below. The UCONN Plant Database is a great resource to learn more about particular trees. 

Small Trees (less than 30’ tall) 

Medium Trees (30-50’ tall)

Large Trees (greater than 50’ tall)