Austin plans to reduce urban heat by using $35 million to plant 400,000 trees

AUSTIN, Texas — Heat is not equitable. Austin’s eastern crescent is hotter than other areas of the city and one busy intersection soaks up more sun than any other.

“At Rundberg and Lamar, it is hotter than anywhere else in the city,” said TreeFolks Program Director Benjamin Bertram.

TreeFolks has planted 3 million trees in Central Texas and is still working to shade urban heat islands like the area around Rundberg Lane and Lamar Boulevard which is in the eastern crescent.

“It is the hottest because they have the least amount of trees and there is the most amount of impervious cover or concrete,” said Bertram.

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To help, the Biden Administration is distributing $1 billion in grants nationwide to help cities, towns, tribes and organizations, such as Tree Folks, increase equitable access to trees and green spaces.

“We’re planning to plant 400,000 trees,” said Bertram.

Many of those trees will be planted in the eastern crescent which includes East Austin, Southeast Austin, and the Rundberg area.

Earlier this year TreeFolks planted 11,000 trees in East Austin near Agave Neighborhood Park. With the new grants, 400,000 more trees can help protect people from extreme heat and make communities more livable.

“This tree planting is the most cost-effective way of addressing climate change but while we’re doing that we’re also focusing on the community,” said Bertram.

Environmental groups such as the Environmental Protection Agency say air temperatures around urban heat islands can be 2 to 10 degrees hotter than in outlying areas with more trees. The impact of shade is even greater on surface temperatures.

“Right now, it’s 96 degrees in Austin,” said Elle Ignatowski with TreeFolks.

Ignatowski brought a thermometer to Agave Neighborhood Park to show how much hotter pavement and playground equipment will get baking in the direct sun.

“Gosh. This keeps going up and up. So, I think we are at about 130 degrees right now and I have only been sitting out here a few minutes,” said Ignatowski.

When the TreeFolks Communications Director moved to the shade the thermometer quickly started dropping.

“This went from 130-degrees and continuing to rise to, it’s been steadily dropping, so now we see about 112,” said Ignatowski.

In the shade, it did not take long for the thermometer to read the air temperature of 96 degrees.

“Having a tree-lined neighborhood or a tree-lined park versus not is just a huge quality of life, physical health, mental health difference,” said Ignatowski. “Imagine if you had more shade and tree cover, this could be a much more inviting and friendly place.”

Central Texas organizations including TreeFolks, City of Austin, American YouthWorks and Go Austin/Vamos Austin applied for $35 million in tree-planting grants. The goal is to use those trees to ensure everyone, regardless of ZIP code, has equitable access to shade and green spaces.

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