Denver looks to tree-planting to help shade city as heat islands grow and new greenspace proves elusive

City forester laments “concrete is definitely getting poured faster than we are planting trees”

By Bruce Finley | bfinley@denverpost.com | The Denver PostPUBLISHED: January 3, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: January 3, 2021 at 9:10 a.m.73

Denver leaders who for two decades have backed densification, paving over greenspace with concrete and asphalt to accommodate more people in the city, now are turning to trees for relief from worsening heat islands that amplify climate warming.

But urban ecologists and city officials say trees alone won’t be enough to keep Denver habitable as temperatures increase. They urge a far more ambitious expansion of greenspace.

“And concrete is definitely getting poured faster than we are planting trees,” city forester Mike Swanson told The Denver Post.

Heat islands — dense urban areas that are much warmer than their surroundings — have widened, data shows, with Denver emerging as one of the nation’s most “impervious,” or paved-over, cities. Older neighborhoods where houses have yards may be more resilient, researchers have found, because compared with redeveloped parts of the city, these landscapes don’t radiate as much heat.

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