Read more about unique collaborations between conservation organizations, medical professionals and neighborhood groups to restore tree canopy in Chicago’s South Side.
Trees have an important role in urban communities – they cool down neighborhoods and reduce the urban heat island effect. Tree cover has also been proven to help reduce chronic respiratory conditions and heat-related illnesses, and improve mental health. In addition to these benefits, healthy trees store carbon, making urban forests a part of the solution to climate change.
With the many benefits of urban trees in mind, a collaborative workforce development effort called the Imani Green Health Advocates (IGHA) Program was initiated between The Nature Conservancy, Trinity United Church of Christ, Advocate Aurora Health Care, the Morton Arboretum, the University of Chicago and the USDA Forest Service. This program brings together medical professionals and conservation organizations to promote healthy landscapes and healthy communities in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods.
Going into its third year, this partnership surveys existing tree cover in South Side Chicago neighborhoods, and identifies significant ash tree (Fraxinus spp.) mortality due to emerald ash borer (EAB) – an exotic beetle that infests and eventually kills ash trees. Public health and conservation professionals alike fear that significant reduction in canopy cover may lead to a subsequent increase in respiratory conditions like asthma, which are already prevalent in these South Side communities.
Rachel Patterson, a native of Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, participated in the program as an Advocate on the IGHA team last year. After seeing the results of the survey, she knew that her community was at risk, and began advocating for new tree cover. “When I found out that my community in Chatham had one of the highest rates of respiratory illness, I had to use that knowledge,” she said.
This year, a new public-private partnership called Treesilience will help Chicago neighborhoods restore tree canopy degraded by EAB infestation. Through the equitable distribution of resources for the removal and replacement of dead and dying trees, this project will help ensure that all Chicago neighborhoods have access to the health and well-being benefits provided by tree cover. The project will also help address systematic unemployment of talented people of color by providing potential opportunities for careers in urban forestry, and set an example for similar programs in other cities.
Learn more about the Public Health Benefits of Urban Trees
Did you know: The total annual savings in electricity costs for homes in small towns to metro areas in the U.S. is $4.7 billion, due to trees blocking wind and providing shade.