Aug 10, 2023 • Annie Cao
Trees do a lot for us, whether we realize it or not. They’re an essential part of any infrastructure and the environment. But unfortunately, many cities and neighborhoods don’t have enough tree cover, which has a negative impact on the planet. Because of this, organizations are advocating for urgent action to plant the seeds for tree equity.
If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood that lacks trees and greenery, you’re probably not tempted to take walks and when summer comes around, the heat is so strong that it’s difficult to stay cool without a high electricity bill. But interestingly enough, tree equity is directly tied to these situations.
Tree equity comes from a data tool created by American Forests. A Tree Equity Score specifies whether or not a neighborhood has enough trees to experience the health, climate, and economic benefits of trees. The score for each neighborhood is calculated based on population density, income and employment, age, ethnicity, surface temperature, and satellite data on tree cover.
Recent research shows a connection between the amount of tree cover in a neighborhood and the people that live there. Typically, low-income neighborhoods where the majority of residents are people of color have 33 percent less tree canopy compared to places with a majority white community. Additionally, neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates have 41 percent less tree cover than wealthier areas. But how did this happen?
In the 1930s, real estate practices included redlining, which was a form of racism that created housing discrimination. As a result, neighborhoods with people of color were underinvested and neglected, leading to more pavement than greenery in those areas, among other consequences. These communities are also prone to heat islands, which is when the temperature is significantly higher than other areas due to insufficient tree cover. One study showed that about 5,000 people in the United Stars die each year from heat-related illnesses, which is likely connected to these hotter neighborhoods.
Achieving tree equity would have several benefits for neighborhoods, cities, and the environment:
Adding more trees would do more than just beautify an area – adequate tree cover could potentially improve people’s quality of life.
American Forests calculated that achieving tree equity would require planting and growing 522 million trees across urban American cities (according to the 2021 Tree Equity Score). To reach this goal, they plan to complete these steps by 2030:
Currently, several cities have begun working on initiatives to start working towards tree equity. For example, American Forests is working with the city of Phoenix and the Arizona Sustainability Alliance on a coalition of partners to create a program that combats extreme heat in the area.
Working on tree equity, along with other goals, such as walkable cities, green spaces, and more, are all ways we can invest in our future now (while keeping us a little cooler in the process!).
What are your thoughts on tree equity? Let us know in the comments!
Cover image via Houston Chronicle