Combating the urban heat island effect in Richmond

A message from
Capital One

Capital One is teaming up with the Arbor Day Foundation and Groundwork RVA to plant and distribute 300 trees to combat the Urban Heat Island Effect.

Why it’s important: In cities like Richmond, Virginia, temperatures can vary as much as 20 degrees across different parts of the city, which often disproportionately affects densely populated low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

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

The background: In the 1930s, policies were enacted that reinforced racial segregation.

  • Tactics that reinforced racial segregation — including redlining, a discriminatory lending practice — helped create the heat islands seen today in historically underserved neighborhoods.  

The result: Redlining diverted investment away from communities of color, creating disparities such as a lack of much needed:

  • Greenspace.
  • Parks decked out in trees and greenery.
  • Tree-lined streets. 

What Capital One is doing: 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.

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

Key numbers: Capital One’s support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative — an 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.

Alongside the Arbor Day Foundation and Groundwork RVA, Capital One strives 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. 
  • He continues: “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 — developed 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. 

Next steps: 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. 

The takeaway: “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. 

  • Robertson added: “I want people in this community to feel like this space is meant for them.”   

Learn more about Capital One’s efforts to reduce the heat island effect.