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June 7, 2024

Join the Effort: Enhancing Tree Equity in Indianapolis

By: Carly Weidman

If you could plant 3,000 trees anywhere in the City, where would you plant them? And, why?

This is the question Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is faced with answering each year.

We know trees provide incredible benefits like cooling our neighborhoods and reducing air conditioning costs, while also soaking up stormwater to prevent street flooding. With hotter summers and more frequent heavy rains, it’s more important than ever to plant trees where they’re needed most.

How have decisions been made on where to plant trees?

Since 2020, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful has been utilizing the KNIT (Key Neighborhood Indicator Tool) to identify neighborhoods in the city where KIB resources can have the greatest positive impact. Developed as a part of KIB’s most recent strategic plan, the KNIT assigned scores to each census tract in the city—identifying 10 Focus Areas where social vulnerability is highest, tree canopy coverage is lowest, litter is highest, and KIB’s past involvement and use of resources has been lowest.

Similarly, national non-profit American Forests has been focused on addressing equity in access to trees from a national perspective. They coined the term “Tree Equity”, which is about ensuring that all people experience the benefits of trees through focusing resources in neighborhoods of highest need. American Forests partners with corporations, foundations, government agencies, community-based organizations, community leaders, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions at local and national levels to advance Tree Equity. One way they are helping to facilitate this is through the creation of free tools like their Tree Equity Score National Explorer and localized Tree Equity Score Analyzers (TESAs).

Tree Equity Score National Explorer is a free data platform that maps tree coverage and sets the national standard for addressing Tree Equity in urban areas across America. The Tree Equity Score Analyzers (TESAs) dive even deeper into specific communities, incorporating local data driven by community input. Each localized TESA tool provides a social-equity-focused narrative, goals and a guide path for building understanding, commitment and action for Tree Equity. It is also free and easy to access.

How does the Tree Equity Score Analyzer apply to Indianapolis?

From July to December 2023, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful helped convene groups of stakeholders to provide input into the local customization and pilot a Tree Equity Score Analyzer for Marion County. Stakeholders, ranging from City government staff, community forestry professionals, and neighborhood leaders, engaged in a variety of input activities:

And now, we are excited to share the Tree Equity Score Analyzer for Marion County, Indiana is here! This is one of only 12 current local TESAs that is now free and available to the public. This tool helps everyone from forestry professionals to community members make informed decisions about where to plant trees in Indianapolis.

“With a vision of a world in which forests’ significant environmental, societal, and economic benefits are fully realized and equitably available to everyone,” said Joshua Simon, Senior Manager of Community Engagement at American Forests. “We are excited to bring an even more impactful tool to Indianapolis to continue expanding the Tree Equity movement.”

The new Tree Equity Score Analyzer is developed specifically for Marion County, and provides a deeper level of data and insights to help users work site-by-site to improve Tree Equity Scores. It enables communities to take a human-centered, data-driven approach to developing actionable tree planting and protection plans, ensuring they are focusing on areas that need them most.

How will the impact be measured?

It will take expanding the tree canopy by a little more than 70 square miles (equivalent to roughly 3.3 million trees) to get every neighborhood in Marion County to a Tree Equity Score of 100, an equitable distribution of tree cover across the county. Ensuring all Indianapolis residents have access to green spaces and tree canopy is no small task. Utilizing tools like the TESA can help to ensure that resources are dedicated toward communities who can benefit the most.

“This tool was customized to highlight the needs of our community and was created with the help of community voices,” said Carly Weidman, Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. “We hope this tool will continue to not only inform KIB’s community forestry work but more importantly also lead to larger conversations about environmental equity and how trees can help to support community needs in the areas that need it most.”

The Tree Equity Score Analyzer provides a social-equity-focused narrative, goals and a guide path for building understanding, commitment and action for Tree Equity. It is also free and easy to access and will help Marion County develop planning, reporting and funding efforts to move towards this goal of achieving Tree Equity.

By using the TESA, we can ensure resources are dedicated to the neighborhoods that need them most, moving us closer to achieving Tree Equity in Indianapolis.

Categories: Community Forestry, Education, Engaged Citizens, Habitat Restoration, Partners, Research & Data, Trees and Native Habitats