Tempe could have up to 45 days of temperatures surpassing 120 degrees by 2040 if citizens do not take action, according to studies from Arizona State University’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.
As a result of the studies, the city of Tempe recently proposed its urban forestry master plan as officials continue to push for a 25 percent tree and shade canopy throughout the city by the year 2040.
In response to these alarming numbers, the city has identified three key areas on which to focus planting and maintaining new trees over the next 5 to 10 years: parks and open spaces, streets and sidewalks, and urban areas that are bustling with commercial and civic activity. Officials also want to make Tempe a “20-minute city,” a place where residents can comfortably walk or bike to important amenities such as grocery stores and transit hubs within 20 minutes of their homes.
“We want to plant up to 25 trees per acre in our city parks and surrounding areas,” said Bonnie Richardson, an architect and urban planner for the city of Tempe. “Attacking our microclimate will help tremendously in reducing the effects of our harsh urban heat island.”
Tempe is currently home to 3,412 acres of tree and shade canopies, which equates to 13.4 percent of the total land area.
However, a majority of the city consists of private properties, which range from businesses and retail stores to institutional and religious properties. Increasing the tree canopy in these areas will require extra effort as solutions to this problem will need to engage, educate, and empower the surrounding community.
“Creating a bond with both the youth and adult members of this community will be extremely important for this project going forward,” said Lauren Kuby, a council member for the city of Tempe. “We will not be able to accomplish our goals if we do not fully educate our residents about the effects of tree planting and how it will revitalize our sustainability efforts.”
Going forward, the city of Tempe still faces a few concerns before the project can come full circle.
The future of water in Arizona still remains very unclear as the current extended drought in California and states of the Southwest serves as a reminder that this precious resource is not always readily available in desert cities like Tempe. Some trees that have already been planted throughout the city are not native to the region or do not adapt to the desert environment, resulting in the consumption of large amounts of water.
“When you plant trees it will lower the average temperature of the area by a decent amount, making it more livable for residents,” said Kevin Lane, a junior studying sustainability at Arizona State University. “It is basically a trade off. Trees rely on water to survive, we want lower temperatures in our city. We just need to be careful because water is vital for survival and livability in Tempe, and there is only a limited amount here.”
Budget also plays a key role in the success of this project. During the 2008 financial crisis, city officials made the decision to cut funding for park and street maintenance as funds were no longer made available to properly care for or improve the existing trees throughout the city. Many trees died after not receiving proper care, most of them not being replaced until months after.
As the economy slowly improved, Tempe began the process of allocating additional funding to begin the re-vegetation process. On Dec. 3, 2015, City Council approved and accept a grant from American Forests, a non-profit organization devoted to protecting and restoring forest ecosystems back to full health. The grant of $100,000 will help kick off Tempe’s Urban Forest Program.
“This grant money was absolutely huge to our city,” proclaimed Richardson. “We can now begin to repair all damaged trees as well as plant new ones where they are needed most. There is no way we would be here today without it.”