Officials with the Houston Endowment, a nonprofit dedicated to improving equity and enhancing the vibrancy of the city, announced Aug. 22 an $8 million grant toward planting trees and enhancing green space in some of Houston's hottest neighborhoods.

The grant is being provided to the Houston Parks Board and the nonprofit Trees for Houston.

The overview

Of the $8 million included in the grant, Trees for Houston is going to get $4 million over two years, said Barry Ward, executive director of Trees for Houston.

The broad scope for how the funding will be used entails getting trees into underserved parts of the Houston region, Ward said, including areas outside of city limits. Priority neighborhoods include Gulfton, where work is already underway, Ward said.

The backstory

Houston ranks fourth among U.S. cities in terms of urban heat islands, which are areas where a lack of cover worsens air pollution and heat-related illness, according to the research group Climate Central. In a blog post by Mike Synder, a contributor with the Houston Endowment, Gulfton was singled out for being on average 17 degrees warmer than the coolest parts of the city of Houston, citing a 2020 analysis by the Nature Conservancy in Texas.

Other efforts to tackle heat in Gulfton are already underway, including the Greener Gulfton initiative. Ward said the local tree-planting effort will involve working with the people behind Greener Gulfton, among other stakeholders.

The details

Plans in Gulfton call for planting 300 trees, which will cost around $250,000 in total, including the costs of a minimum of two years of watering and maintenance, Ward said. Trees for Houston will also prune trees at various intervals for as long as 10 years after they are planted, which Ward said helps ensure trees are healthy and also helps minimize potential conflicts with sidewalks and power lines.

"One of the amazing things about this gift is that it takes the real world into consideration," Ward said.

Zooming out

Trees for Houston officials intend to use the $2 million to carry out similar projects in around 10 communities. Other areas that have risen as top candidates for tree planting efforts include:
  • Third Ward
  • Greater East End
  • Fifth Ward
  • Robin’s Landing
  • Parts of Southwest Houston
  • Channelview
"We have a laundry list of areas we want to put these trees into," Ward said.

However, Ward said the process of planting the trees involves first talking to stakeholders to determine the best placements and types of trees for each community, as well as checking for underground utilities. All trees planted on city-owned land also require approval from the city of Houston, he said.

The process will involve talking to business owners, homeowners and homeowner associations, among other stakeholders, Ward said.

Quote of note

"These monies are designed to address the inequities of access to green space, shade and things like that in the Greater Houston community," Ward said.

What else

Beyond the Houston Endowment gift, Trees for Houston remains busy planting thousands of trees every year, Ward said, with projects often based on heat map data. Trees will be planted around the city as they are approved, as opposed to one community at a time, Ward said, adding that Houstonians might see the first trees going into the ground in November.

Ward said residents looking to request their neighborhoods for consideration can reach out to [email protected].

"[Places] where we get permission the quickest are where we’ll get these trees in," he said.