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The five-year partnership aims to ensure equitable access to trees for all city residents; Tree Equity protects residents at risk from extreme heat and other climate effects.
Recently, American Forests, the City of Detroit, DTE Energy, Detroit Future City and The Greening of Detroit launched a partnership to plant more than 75,000 trees, employ over 300 Detroit residents in tree care and maintenance jobs and invest $30 million in Detroit neighborhoods during the five-year pilot phase of the project.
The effort will deliver the significant health, economic and environmental benefits of a robust tree canopy across Detroit and will make the city’s neighborhoods more beautiful places to call home. This partnership accelerates previous tree planting efforts in Detroit focused on neighborhoods with the most canopy need, while training and employing local residents in the planting and maintenance of these trees.
The Detroit Tree Equity Partnership will utilize data provided by American Forests’ Tree Equity Score tool, which measures canopy coverage across socioeconomic lines in United States cities and neighborhoods. Though Detroit’s citywide score is an admirable 80, a significant number of its neighborhoods fall below 60, with some scoring far lower — a gap that can ultimately be closed by planting 416,000 medium-sized shade trees in these neighborhoods.
The partnership was launched at a tree-planting event near the St. John Lutheran Church on Oakman Boulevard in the Barton-McFarland neighborhood. Among the leaders in attendance were The Greening of Detroit President Lionel Bradford; American Forests President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jad Daley; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Jerry Norcia; U.S. Senator (Mich.) and Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Debbie Stabenow; and Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dr. Homer Wilkes.
Daley stressed the importance of the public and private sectors coming together to make such an effort possible.
“Detroit is at the forefront of a national movement to ensure there are trees in every part of every city, serving those who need them most,” said Daley. “With extreme heat and flooding gripping our cities, trees are a cornerstone of improving the health, wellbeing and sustainability of communities. This effort wouldn’t be possible without the long-term investment by key public and private partners and the City of Detroit’s deep commitment to Tree Equity.”
The City of Detroit was one of the first cities to make a commitment to American Forests’ 1t.org US Chapter initiative, aimed at helping restore, conserve and protect 1 trillion trees globally by 2050. The Detroit Tree Equity Partnership will help to enhance neighborhoods across Detroit by creating new tree care industry jobs and business opportunities for local residents and by improving neighborhood quality of life through the planting and long-term maintenance of diverse trees species.
“Inequity has existed in communities of color in a lot of different ways for a long time and one of them has been something as basic as the number of trees in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Duggan. “It may seem like a small thing, but having a tree canopy can affect air quality and asthma rates, air conditioning costs, flood resilience and more. Detroit at one point was a city of trees but lost too many of them to disease, insects and age. Thanks to this tremendous partnership with DTE and American Forests, we are going to take a big step toward restoring our tree canopy while creating employment opportunity for Detroiters in the process.”
The commitment to its community is what Norcia said has given the company pride in its role in the partnership.
“DTE is proud to have been a leader in developing the Detroit Tree Equity Partnership as a way to partner with our community and improve the lives of thousands of Detroit residents,” said Norcia. “Investing in the right trees in the right places in Detroit not only improves air quality — it helps neighborhoods stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, reducing energy costs for the city’s residents. It’s a win for all of us.”
This partnership builds on the Biden administration’s work to address the climate crisis nationwide as well as financial support from the USDA. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, signed in August, funds equitable city tree cover to help cool urban heat islands and save lives, energy and money in communities nationwide. By allocating $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, this monumental bill will help bring cooling and pollution-fighting urban tree cover to all corners of the country, maximizing the multifold benefits of trees in combating climate change.
“Detroit is leading the way in the nation demonstrating how urban and community forestry is a critical part of addressing the climate crisis, especially for our most vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Stabenow. “I secured $1.5 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act — the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history — to support innovative climate initiatives like this in Michigan and across the country. I applaud American Forests, the City of Detroit, DTE Energy and the many partners involved in advancing this significant initiative.”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proud to support this partnership with a $485,000 award made earlier this summer,” said Wilkes. “The combination of significant new support through the Inflation Reduction Act and innovative local partnerships that reflect community input is exactly what will help all communities benefit from the power of trees.”
As one of the key local organizations involved in this partnership, The Greening of Detroit will train individuals who face significant barriers to employment for jobs in urban forestry, arboriculture and nursery care through its Detroit Conservation Corps (DCC) program. The Greening of Detroit will also help plan tree planting projects and manage the up to 40 DCC graduates that the Detroit Tree Equity Partnership plans to hire.
“The Greening of Detroit has planted 135,000 trees and has been a partner to many organizations over the past three decades,” said Bradford. “We look forward to helping Detroit reach its full Tree Equity potential through this innovative program.”
As part of this $30 million effort, the Detroit Tree Equity Partnership will initially be funded through philanthropy and federal funding available through the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. In the long term, the partners hope to monetize the benefits trees provide and attract new revenue from private investors interested in improving public health as well as environmental and economic outcomes.
“Restoring Detroit’s tree canopy is strongly aligned with Detroit Future City’s 2030 agenda and goals for the city — strengthening neighborhoods, improving public health outcomes and productively re-purposing vacant space, all of which contribute to better social and economic equity and climate resiliency,” said Anika Goss, CEO of Detroit Future City.
The full list of partners and supporters for the Detroit Tree Equity Partnership continues to grow, and currently includes American Forests, Bank of America, Carhartt, City of Detroit, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Detroit Future City, Detroit Zoological Society, DTE Energy, Erb Family Foundation, The Greening of Detroit, Wayne State University AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program and others.
About Tree Equity
While Detroit is making a bold commitment to Tree Equity, the story of need is the same in nearly every city across the U.S. With few exceptions, trees are sparse in neighborhoods with fewer resources and more prominent in wealthier ones. Redlining policies dating back to the 1930s laid the groundwork for the tree inequity we see today between communities of color and white communities. Studies show neighborhoods that were redlined have fewer trees, leading to inequitable long-term outcomes that manifest themselves in diminished mental and physical health, extreme weather impacts and lower civic pride and connections in these neighborhoods. For example, trees have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and cut overall risk of chronic disease by up to 50%. Nationally, people living near greenery have reported a 41.5% decrease in feelings of depression and 63% decrease in self-reported “poor mental health.” Trees also reduce heat-related illnesses and utility costs, and generate wealth by creating tree-related careers.
This is why American Forests is leading a movement to mobilize communities and partners to invest in and improve Tree Equity nationally, and help ensure that well-maintained trees in the right places are essential infrastructure, much like streetlights, schools and sewers. To achieve full Tree Equity, we need to plant and grow 522 million trees across urbanized America, according to Tree Equity Score.