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April 18, 2024

Greening Urban Neighborhoods from the Ground Up

By: Benjamin Shine

How can community members come together, using data and community input, to address environmental concerns and effect change? 

That’s what The Greening Urban Neighborhoods from the Ground Up Initiative, a collaborative effort between Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) and Indiana University, is seeking to understand. The initiative aims to amplify community input regarding environmental issues impacting quality of life in urban neighborhoods. 

Funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program, the two-year project seeks to: 

Community Input

In it’s first year, this collaborative worked with the Far Eastside neighborhood in Indianapolis to increase awareness of environmental issues affecting quality of life. A survey was distributed among residents to better understand community members’ relations to trees and greenspaces.

“We had a great response to our survey from the Far Eastside,” noted Heather Reynolds, Professor of Biology at Indiana University. “It was striking to see how appreciative people were of the different ways that trees improve quality of life in their neighborhood, from providing beauty and a sense of calmness to cooling and cleaning the air and attracting birds.”

Residents were also invited to submit photos, videos, and stories of their favorite natural features in their community. Stories were collected and then shared via a web-based StoryMap platform. KIB also attended community events, like the Far Eastside Festival, to gather input from residents. 

The dedication and collaboration of our community partners was instrumental to the project’s success in the Far Eastside neighborhood. Key partners included the Community Alliance of the Far Eastside, Far Eastside Community Council, and the Mayor’s Action Center

Data Collection

In addition to community input, data was also collected to help inform the project. Pairs of PurpleAir and HOBO Heat sensors were deployed to 4 different Far Eastside sites, hosted by 4 community volunteers. Sensors were deployed between March and October 2023 as they collected air and heat data to identify trends. 

Samantha Douglas, President of the Far Eastside Community Council, was one of the volunteers that assisted with data collection by hosting a heat and air quality sensor.

“Collaborating with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful was so easy. Their thoughtful approach, intentionality, and wealth of information made the process go so smoothly. Through the data collected by these sensors, we’ve gained invaluable insights into the environmental conditions on the Far Eastside of Indianapolis, shedding light on air quality variations across different locations and providing crucial information about temperature fluctuations. This initiative really underscores the importance of community-driven efforts in understanding and addressing environmental challenges. I was glad I could play a small role in this effort.”

Analysis & Outputs

At the conclusion of this year-long implementation, all community input and data were compiled into an Environmental Action Plan. The plan includes key findings and resources, such as:

In February 2024, the plan was shared with the Far Eastside Council to provide recommendations for next steps. The full Far Eastside Environmental Action plan can be found here.

“Working with the Far Eastside has been a very impactful experience,” said Iasia Cheers, Director of Community Engagement at KIB. “They are highly motivated to share their voice, increase environmental equity within their community, and empower their residents to make informed choices. It has truly been a pleasure working with them over the past year.”

What’s next?

The plan has been shared with the community via the Far Eastside Community Council and will be used to inform community decision making around future environmental related goals and green infrastructure projects. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful will continue to stay in touch with our community contacts there and be supportive of their goals as we are able—either through implementing projects or connecting them to additional partners and resources. The KIB team is also currently replicating this same process in the Arlington Woods neighborhood.

Categories: Clean Neighborhoods, Education, Engaged Citizens, News & Features, Partners, Research & Data, Trees and Native Habitats