PHOENIX, A DESERT CITY, might not seem a likely flagship for the nascent Tree Equity movement that is bringing tree cover to underserved neighborhoods across the country. But this is a city that is doing everything right to increase tree planting and care in neighborhoods most acutely lacking tree canopy. Phoenix is currently working toward achieving Tree Equity by 2030 — the first city in the United States to set this public goal.
A sense of urgency is helping Phoenix overcome its unique challenges in equitably expanding tree canopy. It is one of the most heat-vulnerable cities in the world, a reality that climate change is accelerating rapidly. By the end of this century, average summer temperatures there will increase from 103 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
Phoenix also faces problems with air quality and stormwater runoff that trees can help address. Increasingly hot days are worsening the city’s smog, which can get trapped in the valley where Phoenix sits. And while it rains infrequently there, when it rains, it pours. More trees in areas with low tree cover can help intercept these rains and control flooding.
All this explains why Phoenix has worked so hard to become a Tree Equity leader. American Forests came in as an early partner to help the city formulate and launch this effort, and I am proud of our comprehensive approach:
Inclusive partnership: We recruited more than 50 organizations to form a Phoenix Metro Urban Forestry Roundtable. This model partnership unites diverse actors, from the Mayor’s office to the most local neighborhood organizations, to set goals together and partner on every aspect of the work.
Data-driven planning: Phoenix has used American Forests’ Tree Equity Score as a foundational tool for setting its Tree Equity goal and for prioritizing where to increase tree planting and tree care. Now, we are building our Tree Equity Score Analyzer tool for Phoenix to provide actionable data down to the granular level of individual properties.
Rigorous forestry: Phoenix has embraced American Forests’ forestry expertise to help select native tree species that will have the greatest potential for long-term survival in a changing climate while maximizing key benefits, such as shade.
Strategic investment: Phoenix is thinking through how Tree Equity can be used to meet specific needs, such as creating “cool corridors” for walking, biking and public transit. This has led the city to strategically map out and focus investment on 100 cool corridors that align with high pedestrian use and low tree canopy. The city is further increasing the cooling impact in these corridors using techniques that reflect the sun’s heat, such as cool paving.
This model work in Phoenix is having a huge impact nationwide, providing a template that American Forests can help other cities follow. This includes a new effort we are leading to export the cool corridors approach to other cities with support from the Seed Fund.
Of all the critical success factors for this work in Phoenix, the most important has been the trusting and giving partnership we have developed. Mayor Kate Gallego has been personally involved right down to the level of local planting events. And many great local organizations, such as the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, have embraced this partnership and aligned their resources with it. Kudos are also due to corporate partners in this work, especially Microsoft, American Express, Salesforce, Bank of America, Aspiration and iHeartMedia. Together these corporate partners have leveraged significant public funds from the city and other philanthropic dollars secured by American Forests.
To scale the work in Phoenix and cement it as a strong proof of concept, we are working with the City of Phoenix to pursue a large grant from the $1.5 billion dedicated to urban forestry in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). American Forests was able to help secure this funding in the IRA by working with Senators Cory Booker and Debbie Stabenow and Representative Donald McEachin.
There is Tree Equity interest waiting to be tapped in cities of all sizes across the nation with help from this funding. It is a thrilling moment for the Tree Equity movement, and American Forests is committed to help capture it with model cities such as Phoenix and Detroit, as well as in cities new to this work. Thank you for helping American Forests provide this important leadership with your continued support.
For more news and updates from Jad, follow him on Twitter.