Indianapolis – Engaging Diverse Communities

Planting in hotspot neighborhoods, though, isn’t NeighborWoods’ only tree planting success story.

Lilly Global Day of Service. Credit: City of Indianapolis

Lilly Global Day of Service. Credit: City of Indianapolis

The organization’s Pocket Parks program has been operating since 1995 in partnership with Indianapolis Power & Light Company and the city to turn vacant lots, old parking lots, medians or little-used areas into beautiful oases. These are spaces of no more than a quarter of an acre that are usually surrounded by commercial buildings or houses on small lots. By engaging with neighborhoods, schools, churches and other community-based organizations, KIB’s Pocket Parks are ways to bring greenspaces to areas that don’t have the luxury of multi-acre parks.[1]

Another major tree planting and restoration program that NeighborWoods administers is its Day of Service program, where local businesses and corporations volunteer to plant trees. These plantings focus on enhancing public spaces throughout the city, from parkland and rights of way to planting along highway corridors. Some of these have seen great success. For example, major corporate partner Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) conducted a service day two years ago that required the major highway I-70 to be shut down for a few miles in order to conduct planting efforts in interchanges. Lilly has been participating in a NeighborWoods Day of Service for a number of years — except instead of 150 individuals showing up to participate like some teams, their Day of Service involves around 8,000 volunteers. Hart relates that last year alone, approximately 3,000 trees were planted at 22 different locations on the Lilly Day of Service.

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful volunteers. Credit: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful volunteers. Credit: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

Unlike neighborhood plantings, which require a commitment by the residents to care for the trees after they’re in the ground, these Day of Service trees don’t necessarily have built-in caretakers, so KIB employs its Youth Team to fill the gap. The Youth Team program, which began five years ago, pays local high school students to water public trees for nine weeks each summer, and sometimes they mulch, prune, stake or plant trees, too. The Youth Team program is supported through general corporate, foundation and other donations, but also through the corporations and businesses that participate in a NeighborWoods Day of Service.

How does the Youth Team know which trees to water? Technology is to thank for that.

Several years ago, KIB implemented a new GPS tracking system for the tree planting team. Before every NeighborWoods tree leaves its nursery, KIB catalogues it by species, nursery and type of container. Then, when planted, each tree is assigned a GPS way point — a datapoint that measures the precise location of the tree — so that a detailed map of tree locations can be generated and used for more effective and efficient maintenance needs. KIB can also use this information with software like the U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree to calculate the environmental benefits of all NeighborWoods trees. This GPS tracking system is an important tool for the organization, says Hart. “It lends credibility and accountability to our program.”


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[1] Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. Pocket Parks. (accessed Sept. 14, 2012).