A City known for its Mountains is Building a Forest in the City

September 21, 2020

If you’ve ever had a family picnic in one of Denver’s park or taken a hike in the mountains, it’s hard to miss the majestic trees towering above you, their canopies spreading, giving relief from a hot summer’s day. Most Denverites know the amazing feeling of entering a forested area along a trail after hiking through an open meadow, feeling the temperature cool instantly. For a city so well-known for its mountain parks, Denverites seem to overlook the lack of nature right where we live, work, and play.

Trees are vital – for our planet, for our bodies, and for our cities. In addition to providing oxygen, research shows that trees improve air quality, moderate temperatures, store carbon, reduce stress, decrease crime, and even improve the economy; the list goes on and on.

Walking around the streets of downtown can be a vastly different experience from street to street. Take 14th Street and 15th Street for example, two parallel streets only a block away from each other. 15th Street is majority a tree desert; it has very few trees, and the ones growing, like most trees downtown, are planted in infrastructure that constricts the growth of the tree. Ten years ago, 14th Street looked much like this, however, after a streetscaping project, spearheaded by the Downtown Denver Partnership and the City and County of Denver, which included a large push for trees, 14th was transformed, making it a top destination for tourists and locals alike. The difference between 14th Street and 15th Street? The tree infrastructure.

The trees on 14th are planted in large planters that have adequate space and soil for root growth, functional irrigation that is regularly maintained, and many have a raised curb to prevent from salt and harmful runoff. While the trees on 15th, and elsewhere downtown, are planted in small metal boxes, irrigation functionality is questionable or nonexistent, there is no protection from salt runoff and excess heat radiates off the surrounding pavement drying out the tree. These factors, combined with the size of the pit, causes water to evaporate rapidly, ultimately harming the tree. Most trees downtown planted in infrastructure like this typically have a lifespan of only 3-8 years, significantly less than the 30-100+ years they could achieve growing in optimal conditions.

The Urban Forest Initiative (UFI) seeks to help all properties downtown achieve what 14th Street has. By awarding cost-sharing grants to property owners through the Urban Forest Initiative, our downtown tree infrastructure can be drastically improved. By providing the correct infrastructure and stewardship for our downtown trees, we can grow a forest in our city. In 10 years, people will no longer be escaping the city for the mountains, Denverites will get their fill our nature right in their own front yard.

We invite you to learn more about the Urban Forest Initiative and encourage downtown property owners and managers to apply for UFI grants here.