Case Study

Economic Development

Providence, RI: Tree Nursery on Brownfield


Groundwork Providence

An urban nursery in Providence, Rhode Island is remediating a former factory site while contributing to the city’s plan to boost the economy and increase tree canopy coverage.

Providence, Rhode Island

Humid continental with warm summers and cold winters


White: 48% Hispanic: 37% Black: 15%

Despite being surrounded by housing and former mill buildings, a small nursery has replaced the site of a former metal faster factory in the state capital city of Providence, Rhode Island. Hope Tree Nursery only occupies less than an acre of land, but has been instrumental in remediation efforts for a city formerly known for its polluting industry. It is also the first nursery in the United States to be planted on a former brownfield. In 2012, the Groundwork Providence secured funding from the EPA’ Brownfields program and purchased the contaminated land, bringing in a water line for irrigation, capping the lead-filled soil with healthy black dirt and bringing in 27 different species of native and near native trees.

The phytoremediation efforts of the nursery are forward thinking. Not only will the heavy metals be removed from the soil, but it also coincides with the city’s plan to increase their urban canopy from 23% to 30%. Nearly all of the trees planted in the nursery are matured within two years, and after are sold to local residents to be planted in their backyards. This keeps the benefits of urban forestry growing annually and contributes to healthier air, safer water and reduced urban temperatures in Providence. The nursery has already shown signs of soil improvement with plans to incorporate affordable housing units in the future, indicating the soil is well on its way to being transformed.

Economically Secure

One of the biggest accomplishments of the nursery, other than soil remediation, has been its economic viability. It is economically sustainable, with prices adjusting to ability to pay depending on if the buyer is a homeowner or commercial property owner. This allows the nursery to maintain good relations with its customers and spread the word of its successful business model. A study done by the City of Providence estimates the city is paid back $3-to-$1 on tree plantings because of public health improvements and increasing property values.

Smart Use

Hope Tree Nursery has been so successful in recent years that Groundwork Providence uses the location for on-site environmental remediation lessons for residents and job training. It truly demonstrates the benefits of urban forestry to the wider community and inspires other cities to do the same.


EPA Brownfields program


Providence Groundwork 

  • Groundworks Providence
  • Helen Walker Raleigh Tree Fund
  • EPA Brownfields Program
  • West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation
Lessons Learned
  • Planting remediation trees in urban brownfields yields additional health and economic benefits
Related Resources