By Vince Gasparini | October 30, 2023
UAlbany’s Academic Podium.
Photo Credit: Mattie Fitzpatrick / The ASP
The University at Albany received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of a $7 million initiative by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Paul Tonko. According to a press release on Senator Schumer’s website from Sept. 14, the goal of the funding is to “improve the health of [the] city’s vast urban forest and bolster youth leadership in environmental initiatives.”
This initiative was made possible by increased funds that were obtained through the Inflation Reduction Act. Over $1 billion has been given to the USDA in order to increase equitable access to trees, according to the press release.
UAlbany’s Department of Geography and Planning will be using the $5 million grant to support a project that “aims to improve the health of Albany’s urban forest and educate the next generation of local climate leaders,” according to the university’s press release. Professor Andrei Lapenas of the Department of Geography and Planning will serve as the principal investigator of the project.
“Our main mission for grants like that is to change the environment into the direction which will be more suitable for humans in the future,” Lapenas said. Lapenas also expressed hopes to improve urban forestry in the south end of Albany, and to create a continuous canopy of trees throughout the city.
“In most residential areas, we have a lot of trees,” Lapenas said. “It’s nothing like that in the south end of Albany, and in the summer, it gets really hot.”
Lapenas explained how the lack of urban forestry in the Capital Region enhances the effects of rising global temperatures on a more local scale. “You will be surprised to learn that the difference within forested areas and non-forested areas, which is mostly asphalt and concrete, could reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Temperature distribution in the city of Albany and surrounding areas.
Lapenas said that the canopy will also help improve runoff after strong rains, as the holes made in the soil from the roots of trees will help move water from the surface to the sewage system.
Lapenas also stated the project will be an opportunity for UAlbany undergraduate and graduate students alike to help with the initiative, along with current faculty members of UAlbany’s Department of Geography and Planning. The researchers will also be partnering with the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center to spread the word and gain help for the work ahead.
“[The Radix Center] will recruit a local activist who will go together with our students, plant these trees, take care of trees,” Lapenas said. “And at the same time we will employ several of our faculty from this department to help educate students [about the project].”
On a mission to improve urban forestry in Albany, Lapenas hopes to plant over 2,000 trees by 2025.