Green Heart Project: It’s not easy being green, but it’s worth the effort

Could an innovative health study, with a heavy emphasis on trees, make Louisville the envy of cities across the United States?
Well, that could happen five years from now, thanks to a project that proves the benefits of a healthy urban forest.
The University of Louisville, the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil, and several other agencies, have partnered up to create such an effort, called the Green Heart Project (GHP).
The J is among its supporters.
“We’re taking a look at how we build healthy communities,” said Lauren Anderson, the program manager for the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil. “Our hypothesis is if we can reduce air pollution, through things like green infrastructure, then our collective heart health and lung health will increase.”
Trees, many believe, will make an immediate difference.
Besides providing oxygen and shade, trees present a frontline defense against air pollution.
“The Ohio Valley can be a tough place to live heathwise,” Anderson said. “In certain scientific communities, the Ohio River Valley is also known as the Cardiac Arrest Valley. We are getting started in learning about particulate matter, what affect it has on our bodies. “
The GHP will study the ramifications air pollution and trees have on healthy air. Along those lines, a recent study at Saint Margaret Mary School yielded some interesting results.
“It was a pilot project called Green for Good,” Anderson said. “We took air quality measurements at the front yard of the elementary school, in a high-trafficked area. We looked at exposure levels children had in their blood and urine. Then we installed about 200 trees.
“Then we went back and did more air monitoring. We found, whenever the wind was blowing toward the school, there was 60 percent less air pollution behind the tree wall. The children’s immune systems were healthier, and that was in as little as three months.”
Those results give Michael Fraade, director of Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming and Environmental Education (JOFEE) at The J, reason for optimism, and not just because of the health issues.
“In general, I believe in the importance of collaboration,” Fraade said. “There are so many excellent organizations in this city working on sustainability, and our partnerships with those organizations are part of what has enabled the J’s own engagement with this field to grow so quickly.
“We accomplish far more working together than alone and partnering with thoughtful and creative initiatives like the GHP helps make both of our organizations stronger in the long run.”
One potential stumbling block is the trees themselves; there are not so many of them around. Louisville has lost more than 50,000 trees a year for some 20 years – a 1 million-plus tree deficit. So the GHP is including several local neighborhoods where planting trees will be emphasized.
Fraade hopes that planting trees will catch on in other areas.
“At the very least, I hope that we can bring volunteer groups from The J to help plant trees in the project neighborhoods (Beechmont, Jacobs, Wyandotte, and Wilder Park),” he said. “I also hope to encourage J members who live in those neighborhoods to have biometric screenings done over the study’s duration to help determine how increased tree coverage has a direct impact on our health.”
According to GHP officials, the way Louisville is built forces the environment to work against the health of the people living here. The city has received an “F” from the American Lung Association for annual ozone days since 2012. Also, the metro air quality tends to be worse than in most other places in Kentucky, and an aging sewer system can be overwhelmed by storm water.
Still, these problems can be fixed.
“I hope people realize how many exciting and important opportunities there are in Louisville to think about the connection between the environment and our health,” Fraade said. “There are a lot of large scale changes that I hope we will make to combat pollution, climate change, and other issues, but many solutions also take place on the local level.”
He thinks the GHP is a “smart and effective way” to get communities thinking about sustainable urban planning and neighborhood development.
Added Anderson, “We are looking at the building blocks of healthy communities.”
Anderson says if the Green Heart Project is successful in five years, and she is optimistic, it will not only make Louisville healthier, but also encourage officials in other cities to pay a visit here to help get to the “root” of their problems.
For more information on the Green House Project, contact the JCC, or

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