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Climate & Sustainability

A Scientific Plan for Healthier, More Resilient Urban Forests

USC Urban Trees Initiative

Since August 2020, USC’s Urban Trees Initiative (USC Trees) has connected faculty, staff, and student researchers with community members and decision-makers to advance climate-resilient urban forestry practices and the equitable distribution of green spaces.

We specialize in data and community-driven projects with experts in geospatial sciences, landscape architecture, air quality, and community engagement. Our partners include the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works and nonprofits across Los Angeles.

“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

Project Findings

In April 2021, USC Trees published its first strategic vision for tree planting opportunities in the eastside communities of Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Ramona Gardens (Phase 1). The final report and executive summaries (in English and Spanish) can be viewed below.

From August 2021 to December 2022, USC Trees took a deep dive into the areas of Boyle Heights, University Park, and City Terrace/East L.A. to identify priority planting locations based on the greatest need (Phase 2). Three StoryMaps were produced for each area:

  1. Neighborhood Snapshot: the current conditions in the area
  2. Guide for Tree Planting Decisions: how we went about identifying priority streets in need of shade
  3. Design Scenarios: potential opportunities for tree plantings on those priority streets

Another StoryMap below explains how air quality in these areas varies and how different tree species filter air pollutants. The journal publication dives deeper into the innovative air quality sensor designed for this project.

All of this work was informed by community engagement. A report summarizing creative engagement events held during Phase 2 is available below, along with a literature review outlining best practices for urban forestry planning to minimize green gentrification and promote self-determination.




USC Trees is supporting strategic decisions for where, how many, and what kinds of trees to plant as cities adapt to a changing climate and improve their resilience. In Los Angeles, we are:

Developing Tools

Spatial analysis tools enable decision-makers in the City and County of Los Angeles to identify street segments most in need of tree canopy coverage based on equity. LA Sanitation is using USC Trees’ interactive apps to plant 250 trees in University Park in Fall 2024.

Guiding Plantings

Proposed street designs help nonprofit planting partners strategically guide investments. North East Trees made use of USC Trees data and design renderings to inform its planting selection of 300 trees along residential paths in Ramona Gardens.

Testing Air Quality

Air quality sensors inform planting selections for the city and nonprofit planting organizations. USC Trees collaborated with Amigos Nursery to identify which tree species are better at removing PM, NO2, and CO pollutants.

Building Community

Community workshops and engagement opportunities build care and awareness for trees. Since 2020, USC Trees has engaged over 200 residents across 6 neighborhoods and executed events with creative civic participation groups, such as Public Matters.


To engage with the project team, please contact:

Project Manager, Marianna Babboni

Project Specialist, Katie Vega

Project Team

The team behind USC Trees is multidisciplinary and cross-sector. Learn more about the project team here.

USC’s Urban Trees initiative is a collaborative effort between 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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