Did you know city life is hotter than rural life? Literally. A beautiful 70-degree day can feel more like 85 degrees if you’re in a neighborhood without the shade of trees. Trees not only suck up heat-trapping carbon dioxide, they also help reduce erosion and flooding as well. It’s an issue that politicians are taking very seriously, now that heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S.
Essentially, a tree covering can be a matter of life and death for residents of America’s cities, and like many other advantages, the lower-rent urban communities have been overlooked as the problem has emerged. Simply put, planting trees in urban locations costs a community a lot of money, and there is less money in poorer communities. For this reason, President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act set aside $1.5 billion (a drastic increase from previous $36 million initiatives) for the Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program to fund tree-planting projects over the next decade. The focus of the budget increase is primarily on underserved communities.
The Forest Service Urban & Community Forestry Program is the only federal program of its kind. It employs educational, technical, and financial avenues to bring nature-based solutions for climate and environmental justice. In collaboration with more than 30 national partners and more than 150 community tree groups, it is committed to using nature-based solutions to climate and environmental concerns. Ultimately the goal of this program is to increase awareness and bring healthy longevity to America’s citizens.
Although the Inflation Reduction Act has been the focus of some political debate, cities are starting to invest that federally allocated money, believing it is best for the members of their communities. The city of Detroit, for instance, has employed 300 workers (most of whom are largely unemployable because of previous incarceration) to plant over 75,000 trees over the next five years. Joel Pannell, Vice President of Urban Forest Policy at American Forests, celebrates the fact that planting initiatives such as these are effectively addressing the problem of unemployment in this way as well.
Cities like Phoenix, Arizona, are hoping this program will spur on others and take seriously the problems heat brings to some of our nation. Last summer Phoenix (Arizona’s largest county) was the deadliest on record for heat-related fatalities. (Final numbers are not in for 2023, but this has been a very challenging one for our nation overall). Phoenix’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation is committed to finding solutions for this problem, and the Urban Tree Program Manager there is optimistic that the increased federal funds can be an effective start.
GreenBlue Urban provides a free document to download, A Guide to the Benefits of Urban Trees, that thoroughly addresses all the reasons these tree-planting initiatives are necessary to bring further equity of health and opportunity to our urban citizens. Trees not only bring beauty to our cities; they improve the quality of our citizens’ lives and the sustainability of our earth.