Investing in Trees: Trees and Jobs in Atlanta’s Most Vulnerable Communities

In September, communities across the United States received news about a historic level of federal funding for urban forestry. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) through its Urban and Community Forestry Program, selected nearly 400 projects with goals to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, improve access to nature, and expand workforce development in population centers in every state and territory in the United States. USFS awarded more than $1 billion in competitive grants funded as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history. 

Across the nation, 84% of Americans live, work, and play in urban areas, and investments in urban forestry offset climate change and benefit more people in these highly-populated areas. The five awardees in Georgia are Trees Atlanta, Environmental Community Action Inc. (ECO-Action), Partnership for Southern Equity, City of Atlanta, and City of Decatur.


Working Together

Trees Atlanta’s project, “Promoting Tree Equity and Urban Forestry Workforce Diversity in Atlanta,” addresses issues related to tree equity in the City of Atlanta by resolving two primary areas of disparity – increasing equitable access to the urban tree canopy and developing a sustainable nature-based workforce development program. Our project is a collaboration with several local organizations, including Greening Youth Foundation, Atlanta BeltLine, and On the Rise Financial Center, that will each receive part of the funding with Trees Atlanta. Over a 3- to 5-year period, the grant of $10 million will be used to deliver important outcomes for Atlanta’s most stressed communities. 

The project meets Justice40 goals for urban areas, which means that it will benefit disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution and environmental injustices, including nature loss and access to the benefits of trees. These areas are identified by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST) based on environmental and economic measures. 


Project Benefits

Over the next few months, project plans will be finalized through collaboration with the USFS. Although the details are still being worked out, we expect to deliver the following initiatives:

  • Plant trees in vulnerable neighborhoods in Downtown Atlanta. 

Approximately 2,000 trees will be planted in neighborhoods within the Downtown Atlanta Improvement District. Tree planting in downtown areas often requires additional work such as cutting away concrete to create tree planting wells, planting larger trees, using heavy machinery, and more specialized care schedules which increase costs per tree. However, these areas are among the highest priority to receive this infrastructure investment so that more trees can add shade to mitigate heat, expand canopy cover to reduce stormwater runoff and flooding, and reduce the stressors that trigger chronic health issues in these communities, among many other benefits.

Groundwork for this project is the Downtown Tree Planting Master Plan that was developed in collaboration with Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) in 2020. Trees Atlanta will be able to launch these planting plans immediately after the project plans are finalized. 

The environmental benefits of these new trees will go beyond the borders of Downtown. They will help to mitigate or address adjacent CEJST neighborhoods’ flooding, heat, and poor air quality caused by impervious surfaces and lack of tree cover in Downtown. 

Downtown is indicated by the dotted line in the map shown at left. Map courtsey of ABI. Note that not all areas of Downtown Atlanta qualify as CEJST areas, and funding for tree plantings to complete the 8,000 tree goal for downtown is still ongoing.

  • Developing and operating an urban forestry workforce development program

Over 100 individuals will be trained and paid in a new urban forestry workforce development program. This program will help to alleviate a shortage of workers in roles specializing in nature-based solutions in urban areas. We will upskill people to be able to work in and with the communities where they live and beyond. As more cities turn to nature-based solutions as part of their infrastructure development, the need for this job skill will continue to remain in demand.

Young adults will get hands-on experience in jobs related to urban forestry and build up their financial literacy and job readiness skills. Program participants will receive financial coaching and professional soft skills development from On the Rise Financial Center, a community-based organization serving residents of Atlanta’s westside communities. A pathway to a job with Greening Youth Foundation (GYF), Trees Atlanta, and other local organizations is included after successfully completing training. Several urban tree initiatives, including the Downtown tree planting, expansion and care of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, and maintenance of city public trees, require more skilled workers than currently available. 

This project will include community outreach and engagement to help increase public awareness of the opportunities and the benefits urban trees can provide in their neighborhoods. Tree planting and tree care are investments that literally grow over time.

Descriptions of images above: Announcement of the grant concludes with a planting of a Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) on the campus of Trees Atlanta Kendeda TreeHouse with U.S. Forest Service U.S. Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Meryl Harrell (4th from left), Executive Director Greg Levine welcomes visitor and community leaders, U.S. Forest Service team’s Investing in America’s Urban and Community Forests event begins with a closed roundtable conversation with Meryl Harrell and local community advocates and residents regarding Atlanta’s unique tree canopy, importance of tree preservation and care, and need to activate workforce employeement.


Posted on: September 29, 2023