Urban Climate Change Response Plan – Heat Islands Back to Menu Of Solutions

Have your city adopt a tree canopy policy that will equitably address effects of extreme hot weather in urban neighborhoods

One of the acknowledged impacts of climate change is extreme hot weather. The impacts of hot weather have been especially severe in densely-populated urban areas, and most notably in urban neighborhoods where residents are economically challenged and where more physical area is covered in hard surfaces with few, if any, trees. Economically challenged urban neighborhoods have 41% less tree canopy than wealthy, well-resourced neighborhoods; majority-minority neighborhoods have 33% less than majority-white neighborhoods. Formerly redlined neighborhoods have 20% less tree canopy. These neighborhoods may suffer more extreme high temperatures than other neighborhoods even within the same city, thus creating so-called “heat islands”.  And these differences in temperature can have severe impacts. It has been shown that average temperature can vary up to 10 degrees between places with trees and those without, and that today, trees prevent approximately 1,200 heat-related deaths annually in American cities.   

Civic Trustees, working with our Law and Policy Task Force, are developing a model comprehensive municipal plan that addresses severe weather impacts associated with climate change, including extreme heat.  One component of such a plan can be a solution to address extreme heat by increasing tree canopies in city neighborhoods, with a priority for doing so in “heat island” neighborhoods. “The strongest weapon that we have for lowering temperatures are trees.” And such a policy will not only help reduce temperatures, it can also have a positive effect on the health and well-being of residents and also improve the environment. 

Below are some advantages of promoting an equitable solution that provides for increased tree canopies.  

It should be noted that any ordinance or policy addressing tree canopies should specify that the official in charge of the tree program have forestry experience and be directed to select tree varieties which are most likely to thrive in local environmental conditions. 

Successful Tree Canopy Solutions

  • The New Jersey Tree Foundation’s Renaissance Trees Program, adapted in part by the cities of Camden and Newark, New Jersey.  Both cities achieved improved living conditions for their residents and benefits to the city due to increased tree canopies. 
  • Jersey City, New Jersey has adopted a tree preservation and planting ordinance which sets forth various positive impacts of such a program. This is part of an entire section of the Jersey City Municipal Code devoted entirely to “Trees” (Section 321).  The City also has various departments and committees charged with overseeing tree status and health including a Division of Parks and Forestry; City Planning Department; Office of Sustainability; Shade Tree Commission; and an Environmental Commission.  
  • The City of Perth Amboy, New Jersey has a comprehensive Community Forestry Management Plan with several provisions including a Shade Tree program; conducting a tree inventory; tree planting, maintenance and removal programs; and involvement of the community in these efforts via public education and awareness.