A Closer Look at Street Trees and Wealth

Brian Engelmann, Urban Times, August 10, 2012

The numerous advantages of urban street trees are too often overlooked. Just as trees play an integral part in the natural ecosystem, they play critical roles in the urban ecosystem. The benefits of street trees are many-fold and include the improvement of traffic and pedestrian safety on roadways, increased economic activity, lower temperatures, crime reduction, higher land values, improved overall health, longer pavement life, and absorption of water runoff, carbons, and pollutants (Burden, 2006).

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Residents who lived on streets that are lined with healthy, mature trees have been reaping the benefits of their existence whether they realize it or not. {snip}

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It should come by no surprise, then, that studies have found positive associations between urban tree canopy coverage and wealth. Although much research still needs to be done before making sweeping generalizations, the available evidence suggests that greater tree canopy coverage in a neighborhood equates with higher income of its residents, and also perhaps decreased presence of minority populations. In a study by Zhu & Zhang (2008), titled “Demand for Urban Forests in United States Cities,” a clear relationship between forest cover and per capita income was illustrated by analyzing tree canopy coverage in satellite imagery in 210 U.S. cities.

When comparing the tree coverage to economic data, one of the authors’ main findings was that forest cover increased by 1.76 percent for every 1 percent rise in per capita income. According to the researchers, the most probable reason for this relationship is the greater ability of higher income communities to afford trees as well as the presence of larger property sizes to accommodate them. {snip}

In a study titled “Street Trees and Equity: Evaluating the Spatial Distribution of an Urban Amenity by Landry & Chakraborty (2009), the relationships between public right-of-way street trees and racial and economic variables were investigated in Tampa, Florida using remote sensing procedures to quantify tree coverage. The results of their analyses indicated that higher quantities of low-income residents, renters, and African-Americans tended to reside in neighborhoods with lower amounts of tree cover. Their techniques also accounted for the heterogeneity of land use in urban areas as well as spatial dependence in the data (Landry & Chakraborty, 2009). {snip}

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