Thousands of new city trees to go where data shows they’re needed most

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Arborists Hillary Cox (left, green) and Aaron Stroude (right, gray) demonstrate the tree-planting process as volunteers watch. (Photo courtesy Keep Indianapolis Beautiful)

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.

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7 thoughts on “Thousands of new city trees to go where data shows they’re needed most

  1. It’s great the they are planting trees in the City. It’s too bad the City will not take care of them. Look at west 38th Street all the trees and plantings have died. What a waste of money. The City needs some advice from Carmel, their streets are beautiful and well maintained.

  2. Yes, maintenance, both short and long term, is the key to survivability and establishment of the trees and tree canopy. Respect and
    understanding of the trees and their benefits is also foremost in the long term benefits. Unfortunately the neighborhood and business commitments for the care and maintenance is short lived and disappears within the first couple of years. Quality and care of the plantings outweighs any quantity counts! Keep up the plantings and take care of them! It’s a long term commitment!

  3. Robert – people drive like maniacs on that section of 38th street. the trees and nice boulevard have been ruined by multiple car accidents. that wouldn’t happen in carmel because the police there will pull you over.

    1. Robert, agreed and I’ve witnessed it first hand on the east side on Emerson Ave. The maintenance is okay and never ending but car wrecks damage landscaping of which was replanted.

  4. Certain species can thrive in areas of high (auto) pollution. It is critical to select the correct type of tree and to ensure that the ground below is fit to sustain growth.

    Carmel does not do tree maintenance per se but has planted trees in street rights of way with sufficient space for a tree to thrive. A narrow median without sufficient water does not work well. Regarding 38th Street, other trees or other types of plantings — more pollution, drought, and [snow] chemical resistant — may be the solution.

    But perhaps more important is the replacement of tree canopy in parks and in residential areas. Historically lower income areas notably have fewer trees. Many occupants have purposely felled trees as they perceived these to block light, create an unsafe/unclear environment, and affect sewer/utilities lines. And a comment comment was that many did not want to rake leaves. Sadly, the Homewnership 101 chapter noting the quality of trees for value and street appeal was missed or ignored. Hopefully, trees can be planted in city property between curbs and sidewalks as a start, accompanied by planting in private property with homeowner approval (and enthusiasm).

    Indianapolis should seek to improve and expand the tree canopy along city parkways and boulevards — Fall Creek, White River, Pleasant Run, Burdsal, Ellenberger — and designate new ‘parkways’ to urban parks that would receive a consistent tree treatment. Links could include for example. Brookside Park to Christian, Washington and Douglass Parks along the currently unappealing Sherman Dr, E. 25th Street, and English Av. Rhodius Park deserves a treed link to [an improved] White River Pky and to Riverside Park via Belmont St. Lastly, so many treeless arterial in indianapolis are absolutely hideous — W. Washington does not present a remotely positive picture of the city for anyone [visiting] who might use the roadway from the airport to downtown. Others on the abysmal list: US31 South, Shadeland, Lafayette Rd, Georgetown Rd, W. 16th St (what do Indy 500 visitors see?), Post Rd. Lyndhurst Dr, Michigan Rd, 82nd, Binford Blvd, Keystone . . . . plus others. The need is great.

    1. Also homeowners need to learn about proper tree care: don’t over mulch to the base of the tree- it’s suffocating the roots and will cause rot, Don’t ever “top” a tree- you’re condemning it to a slow death.