Students measuring a street tree

Clark HERO Fellows work to green Massachusetts' Gateway Cities

June 5, 2018

Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities sport architectural reminders of their once-bustling industrial past: factories, warehouses, and ubiquitous triple-deckers, all built close to the street. What’s often missing from this picture? Trees.

Students walk with a DCR officials on the streets of Chicopee to check out trees
Rachel DeMatte, front, and Sarah Greenleaf, behind, of the
state Department of Conservation and Recreation, show
Clark students the urban environment surrounding
replanted street trees in Chicopee. In the background is
a triple-decker, common in Massachusetts' Gateway Cities.
Also accompanying the students were Deborah Martin,
second from left, and Professor John Rogan.

This summer, six Clark University undergraduate researchers have joined a multi-agency effort to increase the tree canopy to these 26 small- to mid-sized Gateway Cities, bringing cooling shade to residents in summer and protecting them from blustery winds in winter, helping curb energy costs.

The students are conducting research as part of Clark’s HERO (Human-Environment Regional Observatory) program. For 19 years, undergraduate and graduate students and faculty in the Graduate School of Geography have explored the interaction between humans and the environment, from how much people tend and water their lawns, to measuring the success of the Worcester Tree Initiative’s replanting of trees after the Asian long-horned beetle invasion.

HERO Fellows standing outside
HERO Fellows and their graduate student mentors, from
left: Elizabeth Lohr ’19, doctoral student Marc Healy,
Yeannet Ruiz ’19, Rachel Corcoran-Adams ’20, Rowan
Moody ’20, Andrew Pagan ’19, Laura Cohen ’19, and
doctoral student Nick Geron.

This year’s HERO Fellows are focusing on Chicopee and Fall River, where they will survey trees and interview residents to see if Massachusetts’ Greening the Gateway Cities Program has paid off. The effort aims to increase tree canopy by 10 percent in high-density neighborhoods by providing residents with trees and planting them along city streets. Last year, Clark’s HERO Fellows focused on the Gateway Cities of Holyoke, Chelsea, and Revere. Tree planting occurs mostly in low-income neighborhoods where most people rent housing.

“We see this year’s summer HERO as an extension of last year’s program,” says John Rogan, professor in the Graduate School of Geography who oversees the program with Deborah Martin, the school’s director. “By collecting data and interviewing key informants – foresters, environmental stewards, and city residents – we’re starting to understand the reactions and responses to change.”

For the students, the HERO program has added benefits: They receive an eight-week stipend, academic credit for their work during the 2018-19 school year, and funding to attend and present research at the Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting next year in Washington, D.C. They also will present posters at Clark’s Fall Fest and Academic Spree Day research events, may see their papers published in research journals, and will become eligible for honors and awards.

Many of the HERO Fellows say they decided to come to Clark because of the University’s emphasis on undergraduate research, small classes, inclusivity, and opportunities to connect with faculty – all of which the HERO Program emphasizes.

DCR official points to ground surrounding a street tree, while students look on
HERO Fellows learn from Rachel DeMatte of the DCR about
watering and proper care of street trees to ensure their
survival in urban environments. Professors Deborah Martin,
left, and John Rogan, back, oversee the HERO Program.

“I like all of the opportunities that Clark provides, like this research program,” says Rachel Corcoran-Adams ’20, an international development and social change major from West Hartford, Connecticut.

The HERO Program “provides students an opportunity to apply a wide range of skills in a research project that has real-world outcomes,” adds Andrew Pagan ’19, a geography major from Hanson, Massachusetts.

Corcoran-Adams and Pagan are joined in the HERO Program by geography majors Rowan Moody ’20 of Ellington, Connecticut; Yeannet Ruiz ’19 of Houston, Texas; Laura Cohen ’19 of Denville, New Jersey (also a sociology major); and Elizabeth Lohr ’19 of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, (also a biology major). Two doctoral students in geography – Nick Geron and Marc Healy – are mentoring the undergraduate researchers.

A May 21 kick-off breakfast introduced the students and the Greening the Gateway Cities project and drew a number of HERO’s partners, including officials from the Worcester Tree Initiative, state Department of Conservation and Recreation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state Rep. Mary Keefe and other Worcester residents.

The students will report their findings to stakeholders at a presentation on Thursday, July 12, at Clark.

At top: Rachel Corcoran-Adams ’20​ measures a street tree in Chicopee to see how well it's growing, while Yeannet Ruiz ’19 records the results.