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Denver to plant thousands of trees in disadvantaged neighborhoods to bridge 'tree equity gap'

City also receives $5 million federal grant to help expand access to trees in underserved neighborhoods
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Posted at 5:04 PM, Sep 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-20 00:01:15-04

DENVER — The City of Denver will spend millions of dollars over the next three years planting thousands of trees in disadvantaged neighborhoods as part of the ongoing effort to bridge the “tree equity gap."

Trees are something many people take for granted, but not Brad Patterson, the adaptation resiliency specialist with Denver’s Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency Office (CASR).

"I love trees,” Patterson said, as he explained what his duties are and what his office is all about. "I get to protect people and property in Denver from climate vulnerabilities."

Patterson said trees help him do that by providing shade that cools neighborhoods and by helping filter the air we breathe.

"Trees are the answer in a lot of ways,” said Patterson. “Trees have a lot of ecosystem benefits. They can protect us in a lot of ways from climate vulnerabilities."

Research shows trees also help reduce stress and improve people's mental health, which could also lead to improvements in their cardiovascular health.

But in Denver, there’s a tree equity gap.

While wealthier neighborhoods are abundant with trees providing plenty of shade, known as tree canopies, many lower-income neighborhoods are not.

"It's very stark, the difference between the two,” said Patterson.

Many of the neighborhoods with fewer trees and canopy coverage are located along Denver's infamous Inverted L corridor.

"A lot of those neighborhoods fall along the South Platte, along highway corridors,” said Patterson. "There's (sic) lots of industrial zones and less trees in those areas."

A tree equity score from American Forests, a nonprofit working to bridge tree equity gaps across the country, shows most of those neighborhoods are comprised predominately of people of color.

Discriminatory practices such as redlining kept many of these neighborhoods underdeveloped.

The Tree Equity Score from Americans Forests. The areas in orange have lower tree equity scores and are in need of more trees. The areas in green have high equity scores and have a good amount of tree canopy coverage. The scores also factor in information such as income, building density, surface temperature and race.

Mayor Mike Johnston’s proposed budget calls for planting thousands of trees in those neighborhoods over the next three years.

"We're looking at 2,100 trees,” said Patterson.

The city plans to plant trees in Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Chaffee Park, Sunny Side, Highlands, West Colfax, Villa Park, Barnum, Valverde, and Sun Valley.

Denver's Community Tree Planting Initiative is budgeted for $824,000 in 2024, and a $5 million federal grant the city was recently awarded will help them expand the program. The city will also match the federal dollars over the course of that grant, according to a CASR spokesperson.

A news release from the USDA said the money will be used to help CASR “increase tree canopy in low tree equity and heat-vulnerable neighborhoods in Denver and create deeper and more impactful tree-planting efforts in underserved communities.”

Denver was among eight Colorado cities that were awarded federal grants to expand access to trees and green spaces.

Colorado Springs received the largest grant of $9 million, followed by Denver and Aurora with $5 million each. The other cities that received federal grants were Glenwood Springs ($600,000); Greeley ($689,000); Monte Vista ($1,000,000); Westminster ($230,000) and Wheat Ridge ($669,000).

While trees may not seem like a big deal, Patterson knows better.

"Give some thanks and gratitude for our wonderful trees that really aren't supposed to be in this ecosystem where we are now,” said Patterson. “We're lucky to have them."

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