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Survey finds room for more than 500 new trees in Houston neighborhood’s battle against urban heat

HOUSTON — A community that has been identified as the hottest neighborhood in Houston could support more than 500 additional trees in public spaces, according to a recent street-by-street analysis conducted by Texas A&M Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy in Texas.

Last month’s survey of available public space for tree plantings is part of a comprehensive community initiative to mitigate the effects of heat, improve air quality and enhance nature in the Gulfton Super Neighborhood in southwest Houston.

The effort, known as Greener Gulfton, aims to increase the tree canopy across the neighborhood and reduce the impact of urban heat islands on the community. Urban heat islands are areas where temperatures are higher than surrounding rural areas due to the lack of vegetation and the concentration of concrete and asphalt.

The mapping of potential locations for new trees, done through a software application developed by Texas A&M Forest Service, will allow the partners behind the initiative to plan and implement tree-planting projects that will have a positive impact on the health and well-being of Gulfton residents.

The neighborhood, which sits between the 610 Loop and Beltway 8, southeast of Interstate 69 and north of Bellaire Boulevard, is home to a diverse population and is dominated by apartment complexes along with a mix of commercial and industrial development. It was the hottest neighborhood in a 2020 heat-mapping study of parts of Harris County conducted by The Nature Conservancy in Texas and a coalition of government agencies and research institutions — measuring 17 degrees warmer than the coolest area recorded in the county during the project.

Mac Martin, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program Partnership Coordinator, said the neighborhood is lacking in tree canopy, which plays a role in making it warmer than other parts of the city and contributes to increased stormwater runoff and health-related issues like asthma and respiratory problems.

“It’s a heavily developed neighborhood,” Martin said. “So it’s great to see that there are so many opportunities to incorporate nature that will have a direct benefit for the residents.”

Martin said the estimates collected from the street survey will be used to calculate values of the added trees for economic, health and biodiversity benefits, creating a “before and after” snapshot of the neighborhood.

“That comparison will help show what more trees can really do for this community and others like it in terms of reducing heat and increasing the quality of life,” Martin said.

The goal is to use the data to attract funding to establish and maintain new trees in the Gulfton neighborhood, said Jaime González, Community and Equitable Conservation Programs Director for The Nature Conservancy in Texas.

“We want to get more information about what the urban forest looks like and where we can take it if we all work together,” González said. “That’s why this research is indispensable and will lead to some really good outcomes for the community.”


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