STAMFORD, Conn. (February 1, 2023) – Keep America Beautiful® is proud to announce our next Affiliate of the Month. In this KAB initiative, we feature the great work being done in our network of 700 certified affiliates. Our Affiliate of the Month for February 2023 is Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is being recognized for the Innovation Awards they received from KAB in 2020 and 2021. The Keep America Beautiful Innovation Award salutes affiliates that have created innovative partnerships and programs to further the mission of Keep America Beautiful.
Q&A with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful President & CEO, Jeremy Kranowitz:
KIB President & CEO, Jeremy Kranowitz
How long have you been involved with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and what role(s) have you held?
I came in as CEO, started in the fall of 2019. I had about 6 months where things were “normal, ” and then the world got very interesting. It’s been quite a journey. I’ve been here just over 3 years but it feels like it’s been 7 times as long in terms of the trials and tribulations that all organizations have been going through in the past few years.
When did your passion for taking care of the environment begin?
I’d like to share two things, and they’re both related to sports. As a child, I had exercised-induced asthma. I played soccer and realized at an early age that, if air pollution was bad that day, it was going to give me problems in terms of my ability to be outside and to exercise, and the correlation was quite clear.
In college, I was a competitive rower, and I was training in the Baltimore Harbor. At the time, Baltimore was treating the harbor like a sewer. If the city didn’t know what to do with something, they would just toss it into the water. And it struck me that this was a jewel that the city should have been faced towards and embracing, but instead the city had turned its back on that waterway.
So even at that age, I realized there was something I wanted to do with my life to try and make the world a cleaner and greener place so that, selfishly, kids like me could exercise and compete but also so that cities could embrace the natural beauty that they already have around them.
Tell us about the staff at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.
We are continuing to grow. We’ll be at 30 or 31 employees in the next month or so which makes us the largest affiliate in the network. Part of that growth comes from a significant grant opportunity we won from the Lilly Endowment to amplify the amount of litter work that we were doing in 2 places: along thoroughfares and along waterways. So that’s one big part of our staff.
The other thing to share is that eight of my staff are focused on trees, creating green spaces, restoring natural habitats. There’s a lot of work we are doing that is not focused on litter or recycling, it’s focused on green infrastructure. That is something that differentiates us from a number of the other affiliates. It’s something where we have found great success, in terms of the amount of work we can accomplish, the types of people that are interested in having us pursue that, and the benefits with relationships with the city at large, so it’s something I encourage other affiliates to pursue if they’re not doing that work currently.
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful received Innovation awards in both 2020 and 2021. Tell us about that project and why it was important to complete.
The 2020 project relates to the work we do on green spaces and habitat restoration. Some of our work is in turning a vacant lot into a community gathering place and, as part of that work, we might plant an entire palette of native plant and flower species. When we are doing habitat restoration work, we might be removing invasive species and putting native plants in their place. We were going out and purchasing those from other vendors. One of my staff said, “Why don’t we grow our own?” So we created a native plant nursery, and it’s a new source of revenue for us. We’re growing our own plants and able to use those internally, and we also sell them and give them to volunteers as gifts! It’s been lovely across the board.
The 2021 project we were rewarded for was the Key Neighborhood Identification Tool (KNIT). This project revolves around how we think about allocating our resources. We have someone on staff who helps us with mapping so we can understand where the need is greatest. We had our “finger to the wind,” figuring out where the neighborhoods were that would benefit most, but now we’re actually applying analytic rigor to do that. We have divided the entire city into census tracks. We’re figuring out which tracks have the lowest tree canopy, the highest level of litter, the highest degree of social vulnerability, and also a score that we calculated from neighborhood engagement. We added all those up to essentially create a heat map that is directing us to bring resources to the census tracks that are in the lowest quintile. We service the entire city, but that analysis and rigor has energized the city itself and some of our significant funders appreciate we are using data and analytic tools to guide our work.
Besides that project, what are some other things the staff and volunteers have done that Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is exceptionally proud of?
We are always doing things related to sports because Indy is a big sports town. We are getting ready to be the sustainability co-chair for the NBA All-Star game and the Olympic swim trials.
I’m really excited, though, about the work we do around green space creation as I mentioned before. We take vacant and abandoned lots, working with a local community, to create a green space they want. So it’s tailored to their desires and needs. And we are doing research to figure out how creating a space like that reduces the amount of toxic lead to children who might be playing in that lot. We are also working with the University of Michigan and other researchers to figure out how that effort helps to reduce violence in that neighborhood. So these are two different research opportunities that will open up new doors because there might be people less than thrilled about a new green infrastructure project. But if I can explain it’s making their children safer and it’s reducing violence, then I’ll have everyone in support of it. It’s really exciting, and I’m hopeful we’ll have research data to share across the network soon.
See the interview with Jeremy Kranowitz here: