Community Voice: Denver Digs Trees Addresses the City’s Tree Equity Gap

September 21, 2021

After over a year of pandemic life, with limited access to our usual indoor activities and gathering places, we all have become more aware of the importance of Denver’s community parks and green spaces than ever before. This summer’s record-breaking heat also has many of us seeking out shade.

Trees are often unsung heroes, both in neighborhood life and in the fight against climate change. By shading homes and buildings, trees reduce air temperatures and conserve energy. Trees also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease flooding, and remove pollutants from the air and water.

Unfortunately, a significant “tree equity gap” exists between Denver’s neighborhoods—one highly correlated with affluence and race. Our city’s neighborhoods that have the lowest incomes and highest populations of people of color also have the lowest amount of tree canopy cover. This disparity is no accident; a history of redlining and a past disinvestment in communities of color, including a lack of trees and green space, continues to impact the health and quality of life of residents today.

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2021 Denver Digs volunteers help to distribute 500 trees to neighborhoods across Denver.

The tree equity gap demonstrates the profound and unequal effects of climate change. Air temperatures can vary up to 15 degrees between places shaded by trees and those that aren’t Denver’s canopy disparity means an increased vulnerability to extreme heat and related health issues, higher exposure to air pollution, higher energy costs, and a greater risk of flooding in neighborhoods that are disproportionately home to lower-income families and people of color.

The Park People works hand-in-hand with the Denver community to address these inequities and fight the impacts of climate change. The mission of The Park People is to work with communities to plant trees and improve parks for a healthy, resilient future. The Park People’s flagship program, Denver Digs Trees, provides over 1,000 free and low-cost trees to Denver residents every year, with a focus on 28 low-income, low-canopy neighborhoods. Through targeted outreach, partnership work, and a differentiated fee structure, we work hard to reach historically underserved residents and give all Denver neighborhoods access to the myriad benefits of a healthy urban forest.

After having been devastated to cancel our 2020 Denver Digs Trees distribution event due to COVID-19, we were thrilled to be able to provide trees to the Denver community again this year. Over the course of four sunny days in April, there was a palpable sense of hope and community among our staff and volunteers as we delivered 500 trees to their new homes across Denver. These trees went to 374 homes, the majority of which were in low-canopy, lower-income neighborhoods.

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To avoid creating a congregation of people during the pandemic, this year’s Denver Digs Trees program delivered trees to their new homes rather than having recipients pick them up from one location.

Over their lifetimes, we anticipate that these 500 trees will reduce 24,820 pounds of air pollution, intercept 20.6 million gallons of rainwater, offset 3.4 million pounds of CO2, provide $89,420 in energy savings, deliver nearly $260,000 in aesthetic benefits including increased property values, and provide 11 acres of additional wildlife habitat and corridors through the built environment. All of these urban forest services will total over $523,000 in net benefits for our community!

About Denver Digs Trees Having begun 30+ years ago as a grassroots effort out of neighbors’ garages, we are proud that Denver Digs Trees continues to provide the community with a critical resource to mitigate climate change and address neighborhood inequities. We are excited to be planning for a 2022 spring tree distribution of 1,000+ trees—our typical pre-pandemic service number. To get involved, please visit We are deeply thankful for all of our partners, financial supporters, volunteers, community residents, and YOU—for taking an interest in tree equity in Denver!

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