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Unexpected Champions in Phoenix's Fight for Shade

Unexpected Champions in Phoenix's Fight for Shade

When it comes to shade tree coverage in Phoenix, Arizona, the city has been fighting an uphill battle. In a region potentially facing a 5 to 8ºF temperature increase in upcoming decades, vegetative shade is a critical amenity, but covers less than 13% of the city’s ground area. Phoenix is currently losing its trees at

When it comes to shade tree coverage in Phoenix, Arizona, the city has been fighting an uphill battle. In a region potentially facing a 5 to 8ºF temperature increase in upcoming decades, vegetative shade is a critical amenity, but covers less than 13% of the city’s ground area. Phoenix is currently losing its trees at a faster rate than they are being replaced and although Phoenicians may earnestly desire more shade trees, the job is simply not getting done. Who will be the city’s shade tree champion? Several worthy candidates have stepped up to the plate.

Street trees, Phoenix, Arizona

The City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department has certainly been a leader, as evidenced by the adoption of the Tree and Shade Master Plan in 2010. The plan’s recent accomplishments include regular community educational workshops, certified arborists on city staff, and the integration of shade coverage standards and goals into the Downtown Code, Green Construction Code, and the city’s Strategic Plan.

Phoenix community members have also stepped up through a variety of environmental non-profit organizations. Two prominent leaders include the Arizona Community Tree Council and the Valley Permaculture Alliance, which both provide education classes and facilitate donation programs for tree plantings. Not only do these groups provide information and organize large-scale tree plantings, but they also provide a platform for residents to take ownership of their city’s landscape.

Street trees, Phoenix, Arizona

However, today’s prize goes to the unexpected champions in the fight for shade trees: the local utility companies. Phoenix’s two major utility-providers, APS and SRP, both provide tree-planting programs, which include educational workshops, and even offer free trees for customers. Although these programs may win the companies points with environmentally conscious customers, the real business case comes from the cost-effective energy savings provided by shade trees. Air conditioning savings can range from 25% to 80%, depending on the building and landscape design. When summer lasts nine months out of the year, how can anyone say no? The companies provide native trees, give careful attention to existing utility lines, and partner with local community groups who host tree selection and maintenance workshops.

The majority has spoken; Phoenix wants more trees and although no single entity can solve the problem, perhaps with everyone involved Phoenix can achieve its shade tree ambitions.

What do you think? Will it take greater leadership from the local government, stronger motivation in private companies, or a larger effort from local community members to sufficiently shade the Valley of the Sun?

Credits: Images by Lynn Coppedge. Data linked to sources.

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Lynn Coppedge graduated from Arizona State University's Master of Urban and Environmental Planning program Currently working as a Sustainability Planner for the City of Lakewood in Colorado, Lynn aspires to advance sustainability in the community of...

  • http://www.urbanexus.com H. Pike Oliver

    Trees get support even in a cloudy rainy place like Seattle — http://www.seattle.gov/trees/treesforneighborhoods.htm

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Lynn Coppedge

    What a great program! I think that providing residents the option to plant in the right-of-way or in their yard emphasized that more trees don’t just benefit individuals, but the entire community. Another interesting note I found was that Phoenix’s canopy goal is 25% by 2030 (up from 13%) and Seattle’s canopy goal is 30% by 2037 (up from 23%). We may have farther to go, but we are all headed in the same direction!

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