The Texas A&M Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy in Texas conducted an analysis and found there’s room for more than 500 trees in the Gulfton neighborhood in southwest Houston.
The Gulfton Super Neighborhood was named one of Houston's hottest communities according to a federal heat mapping project done in 2020 – because of the lack of greenspace and a high concentration of concrete – increasing the impact of urban heat in the area.
On Monday April 24, both organizations went out to the area and specifically mapped out on the ground where the trees could possibly be planted in public spaces. Texas A&M Forest Service developed a real-time mapping software that identified potential locations for the trees.
"We were able to determine there is room for more trees and benefits for that community through the analysis," said Mac Martin, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program Partnership Coordinator.
Martin said the neighborhood lacks tree canopy to offset the increase of urban heat, which can cause health and environmental issues such as increased stormwater runoff, air pollution, asthma and respiratory issues.
"It's a heavily developed neighborhood," he said. "It's also a heavily pedestrian neighborhood, a lot of people walk in that community – so those heat absorbing service like your asphalt and concrete, are basically absorbing that heat, radiating it, and making it even warmer during the day – a lot of these community members are likely being exposed to this."
Martin said while the groups were conducting the analysis, they started to experience what community members are going through, which is why it's important to bring that missing nature into the neighborhood.
"You could start to feel that heat build up," he said. "We were passing pedestrians that were out there walking as part of their everyday lives to get to their jobs – seeing people underneath those bus stops and feeling that heat come up from the ground....people just baked underneath."
A plan called the Greener Gulfton, a community initiative with a series of projects to mitigate heat, improve air quality, and increase nature accessibility was developed by the Nature Conservancy in Texas, with the help of local and community members.
Jaime González, Community and Equitable Programs Director for The Nature Conservancy in Texas said the study helped them understand where trees could go in the area which was never done before.
"There are several different places where trees could be put in Gulfton," he said. "We could put more trees [around] schools, an available park that services Gulfton, we could potentially work with apartment managers to put trees there, but where we were really looking were along streets, avenues, smaller streets where we could situate trees in public rights of way."
González said it's not just about planting trees because there is room, but the placement of trees and tree species play an important part.
"Gulfton is a very dense neighborhood," he said. "There are many spaces along sidewalks and nature areas that are too skinny for trees to be planted. He said the species of trees also has to withstand the environment it’s planted in. "When we look at the species we put in, we want it to be diverse, aesthetically pleasing, the community needs, and sustainable as the city warms up."
The City of Houston has a goal to plant 4.6 million trees by the year 2030. Texas A&M Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy in Texas have both worked closely with the city to help them get closer to its goal. González said he's hoping that effort can continue with the new survey findings for Gulfton, but a timeframe has not been set on when planting could begin to happen for the community.
"We are working closely with our counterparts at the City of Houston and Harris County," he said. "We're all in alignment with wanting more nature based solutions in the city to help protect communities both human and wild – so we're very excited that the City of Houston has set this very ambitious marker and we want to be partners in that co-creation."