Phoenix gets $10 million grant to plant more trees, cool the city and fight the heat

Sep 17, 2023, 7:15 AM

(Heat Ready Phoenix Photo/via X, formerly known as Twitter)...

(Heat Ready Phoenix Photo/via X, formerly known as Twitter)

(Heat Ready Phoenix Photo/via X, formerly known as Twitter)

PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix got a ton of green earlier this week — in the form of both plants and money. The United States Forest Service awarded the city with $10 million for tree-planting efforts, officials said. They hope this will promote equitable cooling throughout the Valley.

Equitable cooling is a hot topic in the sustainability world. Tree equity refers to the unequal distribution of trees throughout communities.

According to data from Maricopa County, 27 people died from heat-related illnesses in the 85007 ZIP code last year.

A nonprofit called American Forests analyzes cities across the country in terms of urban forestry through its tool called the Tree Equity Score. Its score assigns priority levels to different cities. Essentially, it identifies areas that need trees the most.

Some spots in Phoenix are hotter than others

The latest maps from the Tree Equity Score tool identifies areas that desperately need trees for cooling.

One area in the 85007 ZIP code is the section near Adams Street and 23rd Avenue, which has a tree equity score of 58. That means its need for trees is the highest priority. The area’s percentage of people in poverty is 62%, according to the tool.

This ZIP code also saw the highest amount of heat-related deaths in 2022 in Maricopa County, according to county data.

Further numbers reflect the disparity in tree equity score between poorer and richer areas.

For instance, look at the area near Central Avenue and Camelback Road, which is associated with the ZIP code 85012 and didn’t see any heat-related deaths in 2022, according to Maricopa County’s data.

According to the Tree Equity Score tool, that area has a poverty rate of 21% and no need for trees to be planted.

Areas with higher poverty rates tend to have a higher need for trees — and higher rates of heat-related deaths, according to data from both tools.

As a result of findings like this, many city leaders stress the needs for equitable cooling efforts. They hope grants like the $10 million Phoenix just got could close the heat gap.

“Tree planting is the most common strategy deployed by cities to cool streetscapes and improve walkability,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement earlier this year. “In Phoenix, we use a data-driven approach to maximize impact and prioritize equity.”

This cash could establish equitable cooling throughout the city

The new $10 million payout will help city officials maintain trees in the city — and plant new ones, the city announced Thursday. It will also go towards workforce development, community restoration and extreme heat response.

“This significant award is more than just money for tree planting,” Gallego said in the announcement. “It’s an acceleration toward a cleaner, cooler, more equitable Phoenix.”

She also said this funding could potentially “multiply our impact” to make the city more resilient to extreme heat.

However, this $10 million grant isn’t the only funding promoting local urban forestry. It will pile on to the $4 million payout Phoenix already got from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The city approved that ARPA funding in 2022. Currently the city’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation is using those ARPA funds to support two grant programs:

  • Community Canopy, which plants trees in neighborhoods and residents’ properties
  • Canopy for Kids program, which plants trees in schools and organizations that serve kids.

Phoenix Urban Tree Program Manager Lora Martens said this funding will help the city cool down some of its hottest areas.

“Everyone deserves to have adequate tree coverage,” she said in a statement. “Receiving this funding allows us to expand our current tree planting efforts in the hottest parts of Phoenix.”

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Phoenix gets $10 million grant to plant more trees, cool the city and fight the heat