Planting trees reverses Detroit's heat island effect, adds relief during heat wave

Living in a city can make high temperatures feel even hotter. That's why conditions in the low 90s could feel like a hundred degrees for those surrounded by concrete.

But local leaders have a secret weapon that can have the opposite effect - and even reduce the area temperature further. They're tall, full of foliage, and grow wherever you give them an opportunity to.

Over the past two years, Detroit has planted over 17,000 trees to offset the urban heat island effect that can make sweltering weeks like this one feel even hotter.

"Weeks like this helps with trees being planted and that’s because a tree planted can bring down temperatures from 10 to 20 degrees," said Crystal Perkins, the director of the city's general services department. "So that’s a big difference."

Detroit is ahead of other major cities like New York, Dallas, Houston, and Chicago when it comes to how many of its citizens live on a heat island. In Detroit, 86% do.

According to the research group Climate Central, cities can make heat waves feel up to eight degrees warmer.

That's why thousands of new trees planted in the past few years can make such a difference, Perkins says.

"The neighbors are ecstatic, especially with our residential plantings and our park plantings. Our residences, our parks, our corridors and our freeways so are going up all across the city," she said.

The general services division does a lot of work with the Greening of Detroit to plant trees all over the city. They also do on-the-job training for landscaping programs. Last spring, they helped plant 5,000 trees. 

But there's another reason for trees that goes beyond just lower temperatures. Those who suffer from asthma will also feel some relief.

"The trees attract the pollutants that trigger asthma," said Perkins.

More trees are expected to be planted in spring 2025. 

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