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Future of Cities

A Scientific Plan for a Healthier, More Resilient Eastside L.A.

USC Urban Trees Initiative

The USC Urban Trees Initiative partners USC experts and students with the City of Los Angeles to guide the growth of an urban forest of shade trees that benefit the health and quality of life for local communities.

The initiative focuses on a 5-square-mile area near USC’s Health Sciences Campus. Using advanced mapping technology, air quality measurements and landscape architecture expertise, the project explores where, how many, and what type of new trees could be added to this area to optimize the benefits of urban forests.



More trees, and the shade that they offer, can improve people’s health and well-being. Trees help reduce risks such as heat stroke, heart attacks and breathing problems caused by air pollution and excessive heat. They can also increase opportunities for everyday exercise by making walking and biking more comfortable. Trees can help build communities, but it’s important to plant the right trees in the right places.

Working with local community organizations and leaders, the USC Urban Trees Initiative combines scientific analysis with social priorities defined by the needs and preferences of Eastside residents.

This partnership with USC allows us to leverage world-class, multi-disciplinary scientific expertise to guide our urban forestry planning. – Rachel Malarich, L.A. City Forest Officer

How can we beat the heat?

Los Angeles is getting hotter every year. During a heatwave, temperatures can reach 140 degrees on asphalt streets and 120 degrees on typical sidewalks. Climate change is expected to make things even hotter.

Communities with fewer trees, such as those on the Eastside of L.A., are more vulnerable to heat. But trees can help. On very hot days it can be up to 50 percent cooler under a shade tree.

To address some of these environmental inequalities, L.A.’s ambitious Green New Deal includes planting 90,000 new trees citywide and increasing the forest canopy in low-income heat zones by 50%. This growing urban tree canopy will make L.A. a more livable place, with healthier residents.

The USC Urban Trees Initiative provides critical insights for how and where to plant trees to ensure maximum benefit to residents. It also presents a vision for climate justice, meaningful engagement with the people who live in the area, innovative studies of air quality, and advanced GIS analysis and mapping to identify how the Eastside can get the most out of L.A.’s tree-planting efforts.

To engage with the project team, please contact Project SpecialistMarianna Babboni

Project Findings

The project team concluded the first phase of the USC Urban Trees Initiative in April 2021. The USC team produced a report outlining their strategic vision for future tree planting efforts in the eastside communities of Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Ramona Gardens.

Within these neighborhoods, the researchers identified priority locations for adding trees based on areas of greatest need. Then they developed five separate scenarios laying out the most effective places for planting new trees within those locations.

They also made recommendations for which tree species to prioritize in future planting efforts by the City of L.A. and others working to make our communities healthier and more livable.

The phase one report and executive summaries (in English and Spanish) can be viewed below.

Project Team Members

Rachel Ablondi
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Dulce Acosta
University Relations

Will Berelson
Dornsife Earth Sciences

Jackson Fitzgerald
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

David Galaviz
University Relations

Erik Huisman
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Beau MacDonald

Beau MacDonald
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Esther Margulies
School of Architecture

Melinda Ramos-Alatorre
University Relations

Seher Randhawa
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Coleman Reardon
University Relations

John Wilson
Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute
Project Lead



USC’s Urban Trees initiative is a collaborative effort between the USC Dornsife Public Exchange, the USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute, the USC Dornsife Carbon Census Network, USC’s Landscape Architecture Program at the School of Architecture, USC’s Office of Community and Local Government Partnerships, and the City of Los Angeles.

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