VCU Community Forestry Program

The VCU Community Forestry Program partners with local community organizations in and around Richmond, Virginia, to plan and implement tree planting projects, provide tree maintenance, and estimate tree benefits. Through  this program, VCU engages with local communities to support and elevate urban forestry practices that provide a variety of benefits. Benefits include, but are not limited to, helping reduce or prevent the urban heat island effect, fostering a sense of community and building relationships, and highlighting the importance of sustainable practices. Continue reading to learn more.

VCU student volunteers plant a tree in the Carver Neighborhood.











The importance of trees and urban forests 

Urban forests – a collection of trees that grow in cities or towns and may include trees along streets, in public parks and on private property – and the trees within them benefit people and the environment by: 

  • Providing shade on streets and buildings and helping reduce the overall heat generated by structures (e.g., sidewalks, roads and buildings)
  • Mitigating urban heat islands
  • Managing stormwater runoff as trees filter pollutants from stormwater and help direct stormwater that runs off non-permeable surfaces (e.g., sidewalks and roads)
  • Filtering air pollution and absorbing odors
  • Providing oxygen
  • Establishing habitat for urban wildlife

Trees and the Urban Heat Island Effect

An urban heat island occurs when an urban area (i.e., a city) experiences significantly warmer temperatures than outlying areas (e.g., rural areas). Urban areas often experience warmer temperatures because they have a high concentration of structures like roads, sidewalks and buildings that absorb and hold heat from the sun and a low concentration of greenery (e.g., trees) that help lower surface temperatures. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, heat islands cause higher temperatures during the day, reduce cooling at night and increase air-pollution levels. They can also intensify extreme heat events (e.g., naturally occurring heat waves). As a result, heat islands can be attributed to heat-related deaths and illnesses. 

The urban heat island effect is often prevalent in low-income, communities of color, and it is impacting these communities in and around Richmond. However, by establishing and maintaining green spaces (e.g., urban forests) and greenery (e.g., trees), the effects of the heat island can be reduced. Continue reading to learn why urban forests and trees are important and visit the projects page to learn about steps the VCU Community Forestry Program is taking to assist local communities in need.