Income Equality As Seen From Above

Tim de Chant wrote previously at Per Square Mile that urban tree cover was one of the most sure-fire indicators of income inequality around the world. As income goes up, demand for urban forest cover goes up (although it’s funny to think of something so natural being a “luxury”).

He went a step further and actually compared neighborhoods in major metro areas using Google Earth. Above, you see West Oakland, CA on top, and Piedmont on the bottom.

So it’s clear that a lack of urban trees correlates with low income neighborhoods. Could planting them be a stimulus for change? Could sparking urban renewal be as simple as planting a few hundred trees?

My new set of old questions: define “urban renewal” and “change” … because yes, planting trees and generally making a neighborhood more pleasant will indeed increase home values. And rents. Which works out well for folks who’ve been struggling as small time landlords, maintaining a couple of rental properties on the block for decades, and for big time landlords who own whole swaths of a neighborhood. But that doesn’t change the experience of low income people, who won’t be able to keep up with unregulated rents and won’t be able to move within the neighborhood, rent regulation or not.  Middle class families struggle with it, too. They bought a modest house in a mostly working class neighborhood 25 years ago. The neighborhood changed around them, and today their kids can’t possibly afford to live anywhere close to them.

Is urban renewal about changing circumstances of a zip code or census block, or changing circumstances of the people who started out in that census block but have since moved on or doubled up. 

Love to also check in on cause and effect. Planting trees changes the neighborhood? Or the new neighbors plant trees? Or people start taking better care of trees? Or a little bit of each?