Indianapolis – Increasing Sustainability

Indianapolis Mayor Gregory A. Ballard took office in January 2008 and by October had created the new Office of Sustainability in the Department of Public Works as part of his goal “to make Indianapolis the most sustainable city in the Midwest.”[1] One of the office’s main functions is to ensure the success of the mayor’s SustainIndy initiative.

SustainIndy focuses on ways the city can improve its water and land; find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle; reduce energy consumption and emissions; and enhance the city’s quality of life. In order to accomplish these goals, the city is looking at how to change its policies and ordinances, incorporate green infrastructure into its development, expand recycling programs and incentivize green building practices.[2] Many of its programs are focused on incorporating greening opportunities into new development projects, which led to the creation of the Green Checklist in 2011, now a required document for all developers to include in their submissions to the city.[3]

This emphasis on green elements in building projects has led to a close relationship between various departments in the city and the Urban Forestry Section of the Department of Public Works. “We have construction and project managers in our offices every day,” says Andrew Mertz, the former urban forestry manager. “We try to make sure that the urban canopy, landscaping and green infrastructure issues are taken care of up front for every project,” which wasn’t always the case just a few years ago.

Irvington Tree Planting. Credit: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

Irvington Tree Planting. Credit: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

In 2009, Urban Forestry moved from its long-time home in Indy Parks and Recreation to the Department of Public Works, embedding the urban forestry management team within the engineering section of the department, which has meant that urban forestry has had greater access to recommend and implement changes to how trees are managed during construction projects.

“Trees have not always been a priority when designing and constructing capital improvement projects in rights of way in Indianapolis,” says Mertz. “Neither has the long-term maintenance of newly installed trees or landscaping. Our new proposed standard operating procedure (SOP) gives designers and construction managers a set of steps to follow for every project so trees and landscaping are accounted for before, during and after construction.”

As part of the proposed SOP, before any capital improvement project can proceed, the Urban Forestry Section makes sure the trees within the footprint of the project are inventoried, a workplan is generated, all tree maintenance is done and all necessary tree protection is put in place. Then, the project moves forward as planned. Finally, when the project is completed, tree replacement is completed as needed, and a maintenance component phase begins. “This model allows us to address tree inventory, routine tree maintenance and tree planting needs in neighborhoods project by project,” relates Mertz.

While this procedure is not a requirement for all projects yet, it is something that the Urban Forestry Section strives to incorporate in every capital improvement project that comes out of city engineering. “What we’ve been able to show is that we’re adding a very small percentage to the cost of each one of these infrastructure projects and getting a much better product in the end,” says Mertz. “But we’re still having to sell it, and we sell it every day.”


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[1] City of Indianapolis. Department of Public Works. Office of Sustainability. City of Indianapolis Sustainability Report 2008-2009. (accessed Sept. 12, 2012).

[2] City of Indianapolis. Department of Public Works. Office of Sustainability. SustainIndy Fact Sheet. (accessed Sept. 12, 2012).

[3] City of Indianapolis. Department of Public Works. Office of Sustainability. Sustainable Infrastructure. (accessed Sept. 12, 2012).