By Taylor Bishop
The Downtown Phoenix Partnership (DPP) Clean & Green Team has been throwing major shade (trees) while maintaining the urban core as a clean, inviting and comfortable neighborhood. In the past four years, the team of eight has planted nearly 400 trees—removing more than 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air and giving the sidewalks much-needed shade.
Beyond planting trees, the crew works rain or shine to further improve the outdoor urban experience by picking up trash, removing graffiti and assisting with large downtown events. With development happening at breakneck speed, the team is helping salvage trees and evaluate the best location for each plant. This important work not only improves the environment but makes downtown a better place to work, live and play.
A young tree—like the ones planted on Jefferson and First streets—removes 13 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. So this year, the 400 trees planted by the Clean & Green Team will remove at least 5,200 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air.
We can also thank trees for helping reduce the urban heat island effect. The annual mean air temperature of a city with one million people or more can be over five degrees warmer than its surroundings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Later in the day, the temperature difference can be as high as 22 degrees. Tree and vegetation cover helps lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and cooling through evapotranspiration. Additionally, trees can reduce stormwater runoff and prevent erosion.
Of course, trees have a benefit on our health and environment. However, the Clean & Green team’s efforts are also boosting our state’s economy and making Phoenix a better place to live. With nearly one million visitors expected this year to the Phoenix Convention Center alone, it’s important that our city looks its best to attract more national events and conventions.
Shade is a simple yet essential feature of a pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly street—and the Clean & Green team has helped cover 67 block faces in downtown. Every tree planted has been handpicked to harvest the best benefits while giving it a good chance of survival. Surprisingly, that sometimes means choosing plants that aren’t native to the desert.
Types of Trees Planted
Planting and caring for trees in an arid, urban setting like Downtown Phoenix can be complicated. The Clean & Green Team is currently phasing out dead or dying palo verde, palo brea, acacia and palm species and replacing them with trees handpicked to be more successful in this environment. The crew is also filling abandoned tree wells that can certainly use the love.
“Maintaining native desert trees in downtown comes with unique challenges,” says Mark Hutflesz, streetscape manager for DPP. “For example, we have to prune palo verde trees into what we call ‘Frankentrees’ to make room for pedestrian and vehicle clearance—making them even more vulnerable to monsoon winds.”
We’ve all seen it before: After a storm, a number of dismal palo verdes “roots up” in a parking lot or along city streets. Palo verde trees typically grow low to the ground like a shrub. However, when they are trimmed to be taller, they lose a lot of their shade-making benefits.
Instead of replacing toppled one desert tree with another, just to replace again in five to six years, the City of Phoenix’s urban forestry experts and Clean & Green team put together a set of best practices. Although the red push pistache, Indian rosewood, live oak and live elm are non-native, they are drought-tolerant and will provide shade and beauty for many years to come.
Salvaging Trees from Developments
While DPP pays for the majority of the trees it plants, its Clean & Green Team also helps save existing trees from some Downtown locations that are slated for development. The team works with the City to determine which trees can be salvaged from project sites, and relocates them to other suitable locations in the Downtown Core.
Although moving the trees and keeping them healthy is difficult, the success rate is high. In fact, some of the trees that were salvaged from the empty lot where the Phoenix Biomedical Campus now stands can be seen prospering throughout DTPHX today.
But sometimes it’s not possible to salvage the trees. This was the case with the recent X Phoenix project between Second and Third avenues, Van Buren and Monroe streets—so the developers purchased replacement trees, which the Clean & Green Team planted along Buchanan and Third streets where there wasn’t any greenery.
As development in Downtown grows, so does the team’s hand in salvaging trees. This year, the Clean & Green Team is slated to salvage and relocate 16 trees from the future site of Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management (ASU will then plant replacement trees once the school is completed).
Phoenix’s sidewalks and lots are constantly changing. Thankfully, the Clean & Green Team continues to evaluate the areas in need of some sprucing up while helping make downtown’s street-level experience increasingly green and cool.
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Taylor Bishop is a freelance writer, ASU alumna and proud resident of Downtown Phoenix. Find her playing with her foster kitties, hiking or trying a new restaurant in her free time.