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In cities like Richmond, Virginia, temperatures can vary as much as 20 degrees across different parts of the city, with densely populated low income neighborhoods and communities of color often disproportionately affected.

Structures such as buildings, roads and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies, leaving urbanized areas — known as “heat islands” — to experience higher temperatures.

Many of those areas exist in historically underserved neighborhoods that were created through a discriminatory lending practice known as redlining

In the 1930s, policies were enacted that reinforced racial segregation and diverted investment away from communities of color in ways that created disparities such as a lack of greenspace including parks and tree-lined streets in those neighborhoods.

To help create green space in communities struggling with urban heat island effect, Capital One is supporting the Arbor Day Foundation and Groundwork RVA with $75,000 in grant funding to plant and distribute roughly 300 trees in affected neighborhoods across the city.

The Arbor Day Foundation is the largest international tree planting member organization with more than 25 million trees planted each year.

“Greenspace and access to fresh food is vital to the communities we serve,” said Andrew Green, Director of Capital One’s Office of Environmental Sustainability. “We are proud to work with the Arbor Day Foundation and Groundwork RVA to help address those needs here in Richmond.”

Capital One’s support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative — initial $200 million, multi-year commitment that strives to advance socioeconomic mobility. 

Launched in October 2020, the Capital One Impact Initiative seeks to create a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives.

Together, Capital One, the Arbor Day Foundation and Groundwork RVA will strive to improve green infrastructure in three areas that have been identified as some of the hottest, least resourced areas in Richmond. 

“That coalition is working hard to use resources to mitigate the disparate impacts that those communities have had,” says Rob Jones, Executive Director of Groundwork RVA. “There’s an open conversation in Richmond about how to ameliorate inequities that stem from the direct connection between the discriminatory practice of redlining and the communities impacted by urban heat island effect today.” 

Efforts kicked off during the week of Earth Day in April 2021 when Groundwork RVA’s Green Team and Green Workforce — cohorts of Black and Brown high school students and recent graduates in Richmond — created a volunteer event to plant 50 fruit trees at Sankofa Community Orchard to enhance food access in the city. The Earth Day event also distributed 50 shade trees to community residents. 

Participants from Groundwork RVA’s Green Team and Green Workforce will plant the remaining trees throughout 2021 in neighborhoods in Southside Richmond that have high levels of impervious surfaces, higher than average heat and depleted tree cover.

In addition to tree planting and maintenance, Groundwork RVA’s youth members engage in building and maintaining green infrastructure in a variety of ways, including the development of rain gardens, rain capture systems, permeable pavement and trees. 

One neighborhood, Hillside Court, is a public housing community in which a number of Groundwork RVA’s participants live. 

Adding trees to that community will complement Groundwork RVA’s recently launched mini-farm project at Hillside Court to help address the food desert.

“It’s so surreal to see how we can take empty places and turn them into a spot for people to grow food and enjoy the space,” says Darquan Robertson, a Groundwork RVA Green Workforce participant and Hillside Court resident. “I want people in this community to feel like this space is meant for them.”

The other location — Hull Street — is an area that shares those same conditions but with a mixed-income base of residents. The goal for those plantings is to develop an easy process to fill many of the vacant tree wells in these areas with high-quality, appropriately selected trees. 

Through support from Capital One and the Arbor Foundation, Jones says that Groundwork RVA will be able to acquire the equipment, such as a watering truck, needed to sustain its efforts to support the growth of each tree during the two years that follow planting. 

“We’re thankful to receive funding from Capital One and the Arbor Day Foundation to plant more trees and build healthier neighborhoods,” Jones said. “This work is not only vital for our communities today but the survival of future generations, especially as we tackle climate change.”