A push is on for the city of Phoenix to become more aggressive in creating additional shade and increasing the tree canopy in the blazing, sun-drenched metro area.
Dwayne Allen, co-owner of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar restaurant in Phoenix, and Stacey Champion, CEO of Champion PR + Consulting, are leading the effort that now includes a formal petition of the Phoenix City Council to boost efforts related to shade.
A group of Phoenix residents, led by Allen and Champion, presented a resident’s petition at this week’s council meeting to push for meaningful action on trees and shade in Phoenix.
Champion said there is a coalition of 18 people taking the lead on the volunteer effort. That includes Sean Sweat and Nicole Rodriguez of The Urban Phoenix Project, preservationist Jim McPherson, architect Philip Reina and horticulture expert Kasey Billingsley.
Under city ordinances, residents can petition the council to consider and act on an issue. That includes city protections for trees and shade and pushing forward more aggressively with a city plan approved in 2010 that would increase Phoenix’s tree canopy to 25 percent by 2030.
That’s double the current tree canopy in arid Phoenix.
“Though we appreciate the work city staff has been doing surrounding trees and shade, it’s simply not enough,” Champion said. “The city of Phoenix, along with our elected officials, need to view trees as the critical public health infrastructure they are. We’re in the bullseye of climate change, and Phoenix is hot. People are dying. It’s time for less talking and more doing.”
The city has seen growth and development bring more people and cars. In some of those projects, developers and builders have cut down trees. All that has increased the urban heat island effect. Phoenix’s record heat last year and in other recent years has raised concerns about climate change and what it could mean for the local economy.
The Maricopa County Health Department reported 47 people died in 2017 and another 45 died in 2016 from heat-related causes. Another 238 deaths in metro Phoenix the past two years could also be heat-related, according to county health officials.
Activists want to see Phoenix and its suburbs — which sprawl across a desert, suburban, freeway-oriented landscape — require developers and builders old and new to plant more shade trees and install more shade structures.
Champion led community protests last year when the owners of the Renaissance Square cut down some older shade trees and looked at replacing them with palm trees.
They opted to plant new shade trees after the social media push.