In the wake of a record heat wave that hit the western United States, a new study reveals the disparity in the distribution of trees in the nation’s cities and how it affects African-American communities and the poorest.
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To address that inequality, the United States needs to plant more than 30 million trees in large urban centers across the country, according to a new report.
The first national tree count, called Tree Equity Score (Tree Equity Score), combines various parameters, including socioeconomic factors, population density, and existing tree cover. Its objective is to show which places have a sufficient number of trees to obtain health and economic benefits.
Rich white neighborhoods have more trees
The study examined 3,810 municipalities across the country, including 150,000 neighborhoods and 486 cities with at least 50,000 residents. Analysts found that to reach “tree equity,” cities need to plant about 31.4 million trees, an increase of about 10% over current tree density.
The lack of trees is especially noticeable in neighborhoods where minorities live, while they abound in wealthy, mostly white neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with a majority black population have, on average, 33% less tree cover than communities with a predominantly white population. Also, neighborhoods with 90% or more of their residents living in poverty have 65% less tree cover than communities where only 10% or less live in poverty.
The cities that would benefit most from achieving “tree equity” are Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Fresno, Houston, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Memphis, New York, Oklahoma, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose.
“We need to make sure the trees go where the people are. The Tree Equity Score is taking us in the right direction and now it’s up to us to go beyond the usual to take action,” says Jad Daley, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement. executive of American Forests, the nonprofit organization that commissioned the study.
Relationship with health
Numerous studies show a clear relationship between urban green spaces and health: the shade of trees promotes physical activity and mitigates the effects of high temperatures, especially during heat waves.
Trees immediately cool the places where they are, through shade and perspiration, or through the evaporation of moisture through the leaves: generally, the temperature drops 1.6 ° C in 30 meters around a tree Trees also remove particles from the air, making it easier to breathe. Research from American Forests in Dallas shows that heat-related deaths could decrease by 22% through a combination of trees and reflective surfaces.
Urban forests are responsible for capturing and storing nearly a fifth of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to the report. But the number of urban trees is declining due to storms, construction and insects: Currently, the United States faces a projected loss of tree density in urban spaces of 8.3% by 2060.
More trees, more jobs
Planting trees can also have financial benefits: the study authors say 228,000 jobs would be created and about $ 1.6 billion saved annually thanks to, for example, fewer ER visits linked to airborne asthma. contaminated.
Some cities have already invested in “shadow equity.” In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garceti appointed in 2019 a responsible for parks and gardens to oversee the planting of 90,000 trees, focusing on neighborhoods without tree cover. Phoenix also pledged to achieve the “tree equity“by 2030.
Translation by Julián Cnochaert.