Group works to plant more trees in St. Paul neighborhoods in need

A recent study found that neighborhoods with more trees tend to be cooler than those with fewer trees, and they help to improve the overall health of the community. So, a St. Paul group is working to made their area greener, one tree at a time.

Juan Bates says his neighborhood, Frogtown, has the lowest number of trees in the city. So when his townhome association had the opportunity to plant a free oak tree on their property eight years ago, they jumped at it.

"People look at your neighborhood, and they will see these gaps and see urban concrete, having some greenery really kind of helps people feel like it’s more home," said Bates.

The tree is one of about 500 trees Frogtown Green has given to homeowners in the neighborhood over the last 10 years or so. The group of volunteers grows baby trees in gravel beds over the summer until their roots are big enough so they can be transplanted, usually in the fall.

The Metropolitan Council says neighborhoods with more trees can be five to 10 degrees cooler than those with fewer trees, and more affluent neighborhoods tend to have more trees than poorer ones. It's one of the effects of what's been called "tree inequity," a result of redlining in the 1930s.

"You reduce the heat island effect. You increase property values. People spend more money in stores that have a tree planted in front of it," said Patricia Ohmans of Frogtown Green.

A map of the seven-county metro shows how much heat bounces back off the surface. The path the tornado took in north Minneapolis back in 2011, which devastated the tree canopy, is visible in orange. The Met Council hopes the extreme heat map helps communities plan where to plant more trees and put cooling centers in the future.

"It's not equal access to trees, it's equal access to healthy neighborhoods - neighborhoods that are attractive, that you feel good about living in," said John Schadl of the Metropolitan Council.

By planting more trees, Bates believes he will be planting the seeds for a better future.

"Especially in an urban area where people have mindset of no one cares about this area and anything goes...people care about this area here," said Bates.