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Aggressive tree planting campaign looks to green up downtown Louisville

Downtown's tree canopy is only 8%, much lower than neighboring communities.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Some of the only green spaces in downtown Louisville can be found at the corner of 5th Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd.

The tall trees in Founders Square provide welcome shade and noticeably cooler temperatures compared to the unshaded open grass.

It's also the site of an experiment. 

"We're using this as a prototype, to be able to see if we can intensely grow forest quickly, to be able to ramp up tree production, tree canopy and coverage," Patrick Piuma, of the University of Louisville Environment Institute, said.

Piuma is also the head of the Trager MicroForest Project, adding the overall goal of the project is to make downtown Louisville greener.

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Patrick Piuma is the head of the Trager MicroForest Project, which hopes to make downtown Louisville a greener, healthier space.

Downtown Louisville has a tree canopy of only 8%, which is drastically less than other neighborhoods like the Highlands where the canopy is between 20 and 30%.

Areas like the Highlands are not only greener but significantly cooler with better air quality.

It's a project Piuma says the city is excited to help with, and they hope they'll get approval for additional locations in the future.

Quickness is one of the goals. Similar projects in other cities around the world have seen tree growth in these urban forests ten times faster than it otherwise would be.

"What's happening underground is incredibly important with all of the biology with fungus, bacterias. And that kind of room that works, but then becomes more resilient that way," Piuma said. "But also, these trees are fighting, competing for sunlight. So it makes them grow faster to try and get this light." 

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Grasses and shrubs like these can help tree accelerate their growth and filter ground-level pollution from cars.

Planting in Founders Square will start next February or March. 

The planting includes not only trees but also various shrubs and grasses to help with the accelerating tree growth. Grasses and shrubs will also filter ground-level pollution from cars.

Other locations are yet to be determined, but there are several candidate spots. One idea includes taking the corners of parking lots, where cars are unable to park, and installing trees.

The study will also look at the impacts the increased greenery will have on temperatures and air pollution in the square.

They're hopeful the master plan for these micro-forests will help make downtown a better place to be.

"It reduces stress when people are in natural environments and exposed to greenness," Piuma said.

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