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Climate Action

Cities Facing Record Heat to Get Cooling Help from Trees

JAY WATSON / NEW JERSEY CONSERVATION FOUNDATION – This past July was the hottest month on record globally, with heat impacts especially severe in urban areas lacking a robust green tree canopy.

In what’s known as the “urban heat island” effect, asphalt and concrete absorb and retain the sun’s warmth. Even after sunset, there’s little relief because streets, sidewalks and parking lots continue to radiate heat for hours. Adding to the problem is heat produced by buildings, vehicle engines and industry.

Adding trees to the landscape can make a huge difference in the quality of life of city residents sweating it out in heat islands. Shade from trees can reduce surface temperatures by 11 to 19 degrees. And by releasing water vapor into the atmosphere through their leaves, trees cool the air around them.

In addition to helping mitigate extreme heat, urban trees and forests also absorb stormwater, create habitat for wildlife, filter impurities from air and water, and add natural beauty. This leads to better physical and mental health for residents —and can even lower crime rates.

Cities in New Jersey and beyond are about to get cooler, thanks to an historic investment in planting and nurturing trees in urban areas across the country. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced a billion dollars in urban and community forestry grants through the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

In New Jersey, the Forest Service awarded grants totaling $23 million to 10 New Jersey communities and nonprofits:

New Jersey chapter of The Nature Conservancy — $8 million for the Newark Tree Canopy Initiative, which will develop a long-term maintenance program to optimize tree health, launch a green workforce development program to bolster the local economy, and measure the benefits from trees planted.

New Jersey Tree Foundation — $4.2 million for its “Planting Environmental Justice One Tree at a Time” project, which will focus additional resources on tree maintenance; and expand education programs to include broader issues of climate, equity, and science.

Camden City — $3 million to plant trees along major commercial and high-velocity roadways, install trees at in-development public housing complexes, plant new and maintain existing trees within the Camden Business Improvement District, and plant trees at parks.

Jersey City — $2 million for its “Martin Luther King Drive, Green Corridor Outreach Program.” The city plans to partner with local organizations such as Sustainable Jersey City and Jackson Hill Main Street to create educational campaigns, and provide youth leadership and workforce development opportunities.

East Newark Borough — $1 million to hire a professional urban arborist to maintain the ecological health of the East Newark Riverfront Park, provide educational and inclusive programming for the community, and train the next generation of urban arborists.

Egg Harbor City — $1 million to create a plan for the removal of exotic invasive species on municipal and private properties. A certified tree expert will be hired to maintain trees along municipal roads, and conduct a proactive and systematic tree maintenance/monitoring program at Lincoln Park and Kern Field.

Hoboken — $1 million for an urban forestry project to plant trees, design and deliver educational community engagement activities, update maintenance and management plans, and implement tree-related workforce development activities.

Rahway — $1 million for a program to remove and replace hazardous trees that pose a threat to residents, ecosystems, and infrastructure.

Montclair — $1 million for a project to mitigate urban heat island hotspots by increasing the urban tree canopy in underserved communities, increasing education and outreach, and supporting youth employment.

Kearny — $548,000 to enhance and rehabilitate the forest canopy, increase shade and green space in recreational areas, capture stormwater, reduce pollution, prevent combined sewer overflows, and minimize flooding while facilitating groundwater recharge.

These grant projects are great news for this state we’re in, which is already in the midst of an ambitious effort to plant more trees in our cities.

As climate change continues to push global temperatures upward, natural solutions like planting new trees and forests – and protecting and maintaining the trees we have — will provide much-needed mitigation. Increasing shade and improving air quality, stormwater absorption, wildlife habitat and visual appeal in urban areas will benefit New Jerseyans for generations to come.

Planting trees and forests also helps New Jersey achieve environmental justice for all residents. A term that’s been used is “heat inequality,” which simply means that the urban heat island effect is having the most severe impacts on minority and low-income residents.

It is heartening to see these investments are not just for planting thousands of new trees, but include community engagement, workforce development and, very importantly, maintenance of the existing canopy that demonstrates a systematic approach to creating a green, equitable New Jersey.

“I’m thrilled to see this new green investment in urban forestry, especially in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state. Climate change is bringing about record-breaking heat, and these projects will make our cities cooler and more livable,” said James Lyons, New Jersey Conservation Foundation trustee and former USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. “It is a hopeful sign that the nonprofit sector and urban communities are so committed to mitigating the impacts of climate change.”

To learn more about the new Forest Service grants, go to For more information about the benefits of planting urban trees, visit the New Jersey Tree Foundation website at

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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