Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, which plants 3,000 to 4,000 trees in the city each year, has been collecting and gathering data to help guide its planting plans for more than a dozen years. Now, it is digging even deeper into that data and working even more closely with city government to make sure those plans benefit all areas of the city in a more equitable way.
The Indianapolis affiliate of not-for-profit Keep America Beautiful is using data on tree cover, litter, illegal dumping, community engagement and a dozen socioeconomic indicators to target where some of those thousands of saplings will go.
“We actually have a data analyst and [geographic information system] expert on our staff who was able to take a variety of different data sets—some from the city, some that we have created, some that we’ve purchased from others, to help make that map of the city, by census tract, to understand which are the parts of the city that have the fewest environmental benefits and how we can make an impact in those places,” said Jeremy Kranowitz, president and CEO of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.
Much of the data was based off the city’s 2019 Thrive Indianapolis climate resiliency plan, which mapped out tree cover, flood risk and summertime temperature highs. Disparities popped out, like the dozen-plus-degree temperature differences between some neighborhoods. Trees, albeit not the only solution, can help.
“Large-drawing trees can soak up and hold a lot of water,” said Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Arborist Hillary Cox. “Also air-quality control, and looking at the top half of the tree and how much oxygen is sequestered through the trees, just reducing the overall heat islands in certain areas.”
Thrive also outlined 12 socioeconomic factors that Indianapolis uses to measure “social vulnerability”—who’s most affected by both sudden environment disasters and chronic natural or social problems. Those indicators include the density of people living below 200% of the federal poverty line, households without a car, adults without a high school diploma, households receiving food help and people experiencing homelessness.
“It gets at really helping the Office of Sustainability make data-driven, informed decisions,” said Director Morgan Mickelson. “When we talk about making equitable decisions … it’s really important that we understand which areas of Indianapolis could benefit the most, and which areas of Indianapolis will be impacted in which ways by climate change.”
Through Thrive, Indianapolis set nearly 60 objectives to help equitably mitigate the effects of climate change, including a lofty goal to add 30,000 new native trees to the city’s tree cover by 2025.
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is at the forefront of that work. It holds contracts with the city and with Citizens Energy Group for about planting 1,500 trees each annually, and it plants hundreds more trees every year for organizations and individuals that request them. The organization actively maintains the city and Citizens trees for three years. In a recent check of trees planted three to five years ago, 95% were still alive, according the Cox, the arborist.
As part of its 2021-2024 strategic plan, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful combined the city’s index with data on tree coverage, litter and illegal dumping complaints, and a measure of past community engagement.
The organization landed on 10 “focus” areas, scattered across Indianapolis, though largely below 38th Street: Eagledale, the near-west side, South Perry, Arlington Woods, the far-east side, two tracts on the near-west side, Northwest High School, Crown Hill and Christian Park.
Kranowitz noted that Keep Indianapolis Beautiful will use the results of its analysis to guide where it focuses resources, but will continuing working in areas throughout the city.
“It’s really providing some overall direction and guidance to us,” Kranowitz said. “It’s another way where we actually can start to measure whether we’re having an impact.”
“[The] average tree canopy, for example, in Indianapolis, is about 33%, but there are parts of the city that are over 60%,” he continued. “And there are some that are lower than 10%. So, if we can go to a neighborhood that has less, and over the next three or four years, bring that number up,” the organization and its community volunteers can measure the highly localized change.
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful kicked off its most recent tree-planting season Saturday at Christian Park.