UAlbany Researchers Awarded $5 Million by U.S. Department of Agriculture to Improve Local Urban Forestry
By Mike Nolan
ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 19, 2023) — Researchers in the University at Albany’s Department of Geography and Planning at the College of Arts and Sciences are receiving $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support a new project that aims to improve the health of Albany’s urban forest and educate the next generation of local climate leaders.
The project, Urban Climate Adaptation of Forest Ecosystems with Disadvantaged Communities and Youth in Albany New York (Urban CAFÉ DAY), is part of a $1 billion investment from the USDA’s Forest Service to expand access to trees and green spaces in communities and neighborhoods nationwide.
Communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories and Tribal Nations are receiving funding through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in history.
UAlbany’s project is among three in the Capital Region that received funding through the USDA totaling $7.28 million.
“Investing in helping green spaces in our neighborhoods grow not only improves quality of life and air quality, it helps increase property values, decrease temperatures and so much more, it is how you plant the seeds for a brighter future,” said U.S Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who shared the funding news last week in a joint announcement with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Paul Tonko.
“I fought hard to plant this funding in the Inflation Reduction Act so that places like Albany, Glens Falls and other cities across Upstate New York could have access to the funding they have long needed to breathe new life into our most underserved neighborhoods. Now, a greener, healthier and more equitable Albany can finally take root and blossom.”
Investing in Climate Resilience
The funding for UAlbany’s Urban CAFÉ DAY project will be used, in part, to establish the Center for Ecosystem-based Climate Adaptation (CECA). The new center will focus on the development and implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation solutions, including revitalizing Albany’s urban forest, community empowerment and local economic growth.
Key components of the project include an intergenerational community committee, a Youth Civilian Climate Corps, youth internships, a tree nursery, agroforestry entrepreneurship training, EarthQuest climate and environmental education game clubs and a think tank committed to advancing best practices in ecosystem-based adaptation.
Studies show that trees in communities are associated with improved physical and mental health, lower average temperatures during extreme heat, increased food security and create new economic opportunities.
“Building communities that are more resilient to climate change is one of the most critical tasks facing society today, and public research universities like UAlbany have an essential role to play in this process,” said UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez. “Through the Center for Ecosystem-based Climate Adaptation, UAlbany will team with trusted community partners to help make Albany more resilient and more sustainable by engaging and educating the next generation that will steward our city through these challenges.”
The project will engage local community members, especially youth (ages 18-29) and community-based organizations to plan and implement urban agroforestry and ecosystem-based adaptation projects in Albany.
Andrei Lapenas, a professor in the Department of Geography in Planning, will serve as the project’s principal investigator.
Other faculty at the Department of Geography and Planning supporting the project include associate professors Shiguo Jiang, Alexander Buyantuev and Catherine Lawson, and Assistant Professor Jared Enriquez.
“The College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to support this project and the launch of the new Center for Ecosystem-based Climate Adaptation,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jeanette Altarriba. “It will bring vitality to our communities, work towards sustainable, healthy development for our local environments and provide training opportunities for students at all levels.”
A Community Partnership
Along with UAlbany, the city of Albany received $1.8 million from the USDA to help support its efforts to undertake a citywide pruning of all 20,000 street trees at one time for the first time in its history. The city has also set an ambitious goal of planting 2,025 trees by 2025.
As a partner on Urban CAFÉ DAY, Albany will play a crucial role in guiding and assisting in its development and implementation. City leaders will serve on the project’s community advisory committee and ensure that its most underserved communities are represented.
“Our initiative aligns seamlessly with the objectives that this federal funding opportunity embraces,” said Lapenas, who also directs UAlbany’s Biodiversity, Conservation and Policy graduate program. “It addresses tree planting and collaborates with local entities to improve urban residents' access to nature, strengthening climate resilience, protecting vital ecosystems and biodiversity and creating economic opportunities for underserved communities in Albany.
“We extend our gratitude to our University leadership, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Paul Tonko and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for their invaluable support.”
In addition to the city of Albany, project researchers are partnering with the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, a nonprofit in Albany’s south end that focuses on urban ecological literacy and environmental justice advocacy. The organization runs various programs related to food and climate justice, including planting street fruit trees, tending neighborhood food gardens, offering youth employment and education and hosting community composting.
Student interns will be trained on tree nursery business operations, agroforestry entrepreneurship skills and how to run a community-based worker cooperative, with support from UAlbany’s Small Business Development Center.