Tree Equity Score
July 4, 2021 9:28 AM   Subscribe

A map of tree cover in any city in the United States is too often a map of race and income. This is unacceptable. Trees are critical infrastructure that every person in every neighborhood deserves. Trees can help address damaging environmental inequities like air pollution. posted by aniola (39 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty pleased to see my neighborhood at 100.

Useful tool, although the whole thing is a tinge crowded on mobile.
posted by hijinx at 9:31 AM on July 4


I don't know how it's made its lines because if you look at an area like say Greater Boston there's canopy over residential areas EVERYWHERE. To the point where it's really annoying trying to get solar power installed.

What really lets down canopy % is the business building campuses and associated parking lots. It's not like poor people don't have trees. You look at the poor parts of Lowell and you can't throw a rock without hitting a tree. Wherever there is space, there is tree. There just isn't places to put more trees without bulldozing people's houses.

This is a problem with relying on metrics.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:37 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


Trees are critical infrastructure that every person in every neighborhood deserves.

Just like our last thread on trees in cities, gentle reminder that trees are breathing, living things that we are forcing into tiny holes surrounded by concrete on all sides to act as "infrastructure."
posted by deadaluspark at 9:52 AM on July 4 [20 favorites]


Tree Equity scores can be used to make strategic investments in neighborhoods without displacing the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. They also can be used to generate support for policies that prevent or mitigate gentrification (e.g., publicly subsidized housing, community land trusts and property tax rebates).
How?
posted by clew at 10:16 AM on July 4


That's interesting. My current neighborhood scores 100, but we also have very few poor people and very few people of color. My previous neighborhood also scored 100, but that one had 44% people of color and 33% people living in poverty, so the perfect score is way more impressive. I feel like there should be some kind of correction for that: your tree equity score shouldn't be high if you only achieve the appearance of equity by being segregated.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:29 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


fascinating idea. i started to dig into the methodology, but no time right now. if this isnt the method, at least its a method. a beginning. i think more trees everywhere is the right idea. you can estimate the degree that our society values stewardship with one easy figure: new construction surrounded by dead saplings.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:31 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


the city recently cut down about a thousand trees to eliminate areas for homeless to camp. wrong direction. pure cruelty. hostile architecture advances hostile law enforcement and hostile urban planning.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:34 AM on July 4 [15 favorites]


The tree map for the area where I'm living is consistent with other demographic maps.
posted by aniola at 11:07 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


You're right. Trees are living breathing things! And they should NOT be made to live in tiny holes! That wasn't so much a thing where I was living before, the trees had room there. But here, they're all crammed into these tiny holes and surrounded by concrete in every direction. Infrastructure needs to make room for trees. And replant them when they die. And give them companions plants.
posted by aniola at 11:08 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


Personal derail:

You know what else trees do? Fall on houses and cars and people. Especially in heavy rental house areas, where lower income people live, where the landlords aren't interested in paying for trees to be taken down when they become dangerous. There's been 3 treefalls on my street since I moved in a few years ago, one of which fell on an occupied house in the middle of the night, another of which was 2 nights ago. It's a miracle that so far only property has been damaged. There's a huge pair of oaks leaning over my house that, when they go, will absolutely obliterate the domicile. I only hope I'm not home when it happens, or that I am able to move out before then. I've tried to get the management company to take a look and despite the in-the-field maintenance crew agreeing heartily with my assessment, the actual manager people can't even be bothered to respond to my contacts about it.

Sorry to come on so negative here but like so many things, it's not a simple as trees = good, no trees = bad. There's a complicated matrix of factors involved that inevitable leads back to money, fuck-you-i-got-mineism, and stratified power structures within our broken-ass goddamn society.
posted by glonous keming at 11:37 AM on July 4 [13 favorites]


glonous keming, you might be able to get the city forester to look at those trees.

I lived in a shack under a Eucalyptus for a while. There was a massive pile of eucalyptus debris stored behind the shack. I was WWOOFing for people who definitely did not understand that eucalyptuses drop branches the size of trees, and are highly flammable. Planting trees should be done with thought and care to both trees and humans. For the present and the future.

I walk and bike for transportation, and trees improve my experience in so many ways. They help make drivers more cautious. They help me feel connected to nature. Around here, they make (among other foods) lemons, and during lemon season there's lemon free piles everywhere. They keep the rain off in a rainstorm (ever been under a tree so big you stay dry during a pouring rainstorm? It's amazing). They shade me from the beating sun.

Remember that most recent heat wave that killed people? Ambient temperatures are lower if you have a lot of trees in your area.
posted by aniola at 11:48 AM on July 4 [6 favorites]


where the landlords aren't interested in paying for trees to be taken down when they become dangerous

Yeah, having individuals be responsible for trees (and frankly sidewalks) is not a good model. Where I live the city is responsible for the trees and seems very on top of pruning them and inspecting them.
posted by trig at 11:58 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Related: Since When Have Trees Existed Only for Rich Americans? (NYT interactive)
posted by trig at 12:03 PM on July 4


Trees are definitely part of the built environment, but it isn’t as simple as trees=good everywhere.

The later maintenance costs (trees eventually die and need to be removed, their roots can cause pavement or sewer problems, etc) have already been mentioned. Perhaps these can be fixed by establishing a tree support fund, so that the cost of upkeep is also provided when the tree is first planted. That would make trees more expensive though.

Trees need water. I live in Phoenix. It’s complicated here— tree cover does reduce temperature, which reduces AC energy use. But trees need water and this is a desert. What’s right to plant? Not sure.

Some trees are single-sex, and municipalities wishing to save on cleanup of fruit fall have planted male trees instead— which then produce pollen (some even overproduce trying to desperately reach the few female trees). And that has a health effect on the population, increasing allergies. So this could be solved by banning some species, or by requiring even planting for female/male trees— but both of these cost money and reduce availability. On the other hand allergy shots, meds, and acute care aren’t cheap either.
posted by nat at 12:03 PM on July 4


Just like our last thread on trees in cities, gentle reminder that trees are breathing, living things that we are forcing into tiny holes surrounded by concrete on all sides to act as "infrastructure."

I assure you that not building high density cities and instead having the population spread out in single family homes would be a lot, lot worse for the trees though.
posted by Justinian at 12:11 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]


If I lived in Arizona, I'd plant the kinds of trees that grew there millions of years ago. They replanted a forest from trees that used to grow in the region in the middle of the desert in Colombia. (Las Gaviotas)

Hire city workers to harvest street fruit. In Davis, they were going to tear out all the old olive trees that were oiling the bike/ped path, and then someone did the math and realized it would be cheaper to harvest the olives and sell the olive oil.
posted by aniola at 12:12 PM on July 4 [9 favorites]


In my neighborhood, most trees are planted on the strip between the sidewalk and the street, which is officially government property. Homeowners are responsible for routine upkeep of the sidewalks and the grass strip, such as mowing the strip and shoveling the sidewalk, but the city is responsible for tree maintenance. A while back, there was an issue where tree roots had damaged the sidewalk in front of my house, and the city took care of repairing it. The city also trims the tree branches and would cut down the tree if it were damaged and at risk of falling. I think that I am responsible for any trees on my own property, but the power company comes and trims trees if they're encroaching on power lines, even if the trees are on private property. I assumed I was going to get billed for that, but the power company employees said that it's their responsibility, not mine.

It's definitely better to plant trees that are part of an area's native flora, so I agree that you don't want to plant giant oak trees in Arizona.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:18 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


trees need water and this is a desert

I don't know a lot about this, but I met some people once who were very involved in a de-desertification movement for their city/area and were very enthusiastic about their results so far. Apparently de-desertification is a growing field of research and activism, and one focus is on which types of trees do best in those environments and how to maximize water availability (often through traditional means like planting the trees in pits that rainwater can pool in, for example). The city where they worked is in the middle of a desert but actually has quite a few trees, including many in undeveloped stretches that I don't think are ever actually watered. Mostly acacias, iirc.

I did a quick search and saw this interesting article about what's happening with trees and desertification in the Sahel.
posted by trig at 12:28 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


I don't know how it's made its lines because if you look at an area like say Greater Boston there's canopy over residential areas EVERYWHERE.

This is not my experience of Greater Boston. While there are a lot of trees, "everywhere" is a little bit of an overstatement.
posted by eviemath at 12:31 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


My neighborhood hovers between 78 and 88, depending on tiny movements of the cursor. That said, there aren't a lot of trees-qua-trees in my vicinity. Most of the canyonsides are covered in shrubbery, rather than trees, which is more appropriate for a dry climate (in this case, San Diego). The trees present are mostly imports, like the ever-present eucalyptus.
posted by SPrintF at 1:24 PM on July 4


Kansas City is incredibly divided, here's a screenshot from the Racial Dot Map (I cannot link to cities directly), and here's roughly the same view on the Tree Equity map. There's no distinction on the latter. In fact there's some odd inequity in very white neighborhoods (the worst abuts one of the more prestigious country clubs). I wonder if this is a regional NE thing?
posted by geoff. at 1:57 PM on July 4


Mine matches and I'm in California.
posted by aniola at 2:09 PM on July 4


This is an interesting project and it's great to highlight the inequity in greenery in American cities.

But the lack of trees is not the cause of poverty. Surely it's the other way around? Planting trees in poor communities is undoubtedly a good thing (so long as the budget exists for them to be maintained), but it isn't going to eliminate poverty from these communities!

Something about this reminds me of broken windows policing theories: if we aggressively pursue petty but highly visible kinds of crime (like vandalism), then surely the no longer vandalized community will, now that it looks a little nicer, no longer be impoverished.
posted by dis_integration at 2:10 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Reducing asthma probably would reduce poverty slightly, though. Ditto reducing noise, or energy costs and/or cases of heatstroke. I don’t think there’s ever going to be obvious personal ROI for individual trees, but social ROI for a city’s worth of trees seems possible.
posted by clew at 2:17 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


where the landlords aren't interested in paying for trees to be taken down when they become dangerous

On the other hand, my landlord took out the three beautiful redwood trees bordering the property (right outside my window) only due to fear of their falling -- way unfounded fear, in my opinion; those trees were healthy, not leaning, not bothering anybody. But as the owner owns the trees also, no review nor appeal to that decision.
posted by Rash at 2:33 PM on July 4


Trees should have rights.
posted by aniola at 2:36 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


Not sure if serious.
posted by Justinian at 2:39 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Should Trees Have Standing?, a serious classic.
posted by clew at 2:46 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


I think the goal of this project is admirable, and the San Francisco map broadly correlates with the amount of tree coverage I see when walking around different neighborhoods, but I have some real questions about some of the project's data and methodology.

First, the algorithm for the "canopy cover goal" targets seems to be producing some dubious results. When my favorite tree-lined street in Duboce Triangle is at 18% canopy (with a goal of 20%) and Stern Grove, which is a literal, well, grove is at 40% canopy, I don't know how the people behind this project expect a residential neighborhood in the Bayview to also have 40% canopy? This is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and I agree it's a problem for it to have only 3% canopy, while many wealthier neighborhoods are at 10% or 15%... but it also feels discouraging, in a way, for its target to be set SO high.

I'm also confused about the "average surface temperature" data used by the project, which says that many SF neighborhoods have an average temperature around 90 degrees F. I know that surfaces like asphalt and rooftops retain heat, and that tree coverage lowers the surface temperature, but is the average temperature of our streets and sidewalks 90 degrees when it rarely reaches that temperature in SF and most days the high hovers around 60?
posted by clair-de-lune at 2:56 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I'm serious.

And the rights of trees seem to be less in places where the rights of people are less as well.
posted by aniola at 3:24 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


But the lack of trees is not the cause of poverty. Surely it's the other way around?
I don't think that anyone is arguing that the lack of trees causes poverty, because that would be a dumb argument. What does seem to be true is that a lack of trees contributes to higher temperatures in the summer, and that is both uncomfortable for everyone and potentially lethal for vulnerable people. So having more trees is a social good even if it won't cure poverty.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:33 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


Trees are generally good, everyone deserves trees but not everyone gets trees. That's enough reason for me.

I really miss the city government from when we lived in Bloomington, MN. Everyone was really awesome and I had nothing but good interactions with every part of the city government (except the police). Trees are a good example. They planted new trees in the parks whenever cutting down old ones and had a tree sale every year with a selection of trees appropriate for the area. Heavily subsidized so they were cheap. And they had arborists on hand to answer any questions people had.

Providing subsidized trimming and removal would be a worthwhile upgrade. Maybe someday we'll move back...
posted by VTX at 7:27 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


MOAR TREES NOW!

But the lack of trees is not the cause of poverty. Surely it's the other way around?

Tree coverage improves quality of life and mental health, independent of income level. Trees and money are both, separately, important.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:49 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Too many trees make you see even less sky in neighborhoods that are already claustrophobic with no parking lots and small windows, as if grey days weren't already dark enough. This is why I fled a tree lined neighborhood.
posted by serena15221 at 2:17 PM on July 5


"Too many trees, too few parking lots!" is a bold opinion!
posted by Justinian at 4:57 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


If I lived in Arizona, I'd plant the kinds of trees that grew there millions of years ago.

Millions of years ago was the Triassic - it might be difficult to source those plants. Using trees the are native to the area currently is fine.

I don't know a lot about this, but I met some people once who were very involved in a de-desertification movement for their city/area and were very enthusiastic about their results so far.

Arizona (the Sonoran desert) is a overall a natural desert, not man-made. There's no need to de-desertify the region. The best approach is to remove non-native species (grass lawns, citrus, and other water hungry things) and landscape extensively with native trees, bushes, and cactus.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 7:05 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I'm a big fan of xeriscaping and don't know why so many folks insist on a boring characterless featureless plane of imported water hungry grass in inappropriate places. A good xeriscape is so cool.
posted by Justinian at 8:20 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


is the average temperature of our streets and sidewalks 90 degrees when it rarely reaches that temperature in SF and most days the high hovers around 60?

The temperature map doesn't seem very accurate, so I would doubt it, though the official forecasted temperature is taken in the shade away from direct sunlight, so it probably is quite a bit warmer than the forecasted temperature.

Of course, a census tract in Longview TX has a temperature of 80F (actual temp 92F) while most of Flagstaff AZ, most of Los Angeles, most of coastal CA and on and on have temperatures closer to 100F. Shreveport Louisana too (90F) has some 70F census tracts.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:48 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


serena15221 I just wanted to acknowledge your feelings as legitimate. The grey can be rough.

We need to work to have more outdoors time in our society. More parks. Fewer parking lots. Fewer cars. More trees. More welcoming spaces filled with things like trees and parks with open spaces and community gardens. More reasons to want to be in the great out of doors.
posted by aniola at 10:15 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


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