Your neighbourhood trees do more than provide aesthetics, fresh air and shade on a warm day. They are also an indicator of wealth. A study from Ryerson University found that urban neighbourhoods with more tree coverage are more likely to be affluent and have residential properties that are valued higher.
One purpose of the study was to assess environmental injustice as it pertains to urban tree canopies in areas such as Toronto. According to lead researcher Christopher Greene, trees that reduce stormwater runoff and fight pollution should be equally accessible to all.
“What came out of this study is that there is polarized canopy in the city,” he told Metro News. “It’s a tale of the extremes. The really high values of canopy tend to tie quite tightly to the really high-income levels. And areas with really low-income levels tend to be tightly tied to really low canopy levels.”
Areas with more tree coverage include neighbourhoods such as Lawrence Park, Etobicoke along the Humber ravine, and Rosedale. Fewer trees were found in lower-income areas such as the central area downtown and Chinatown towards the Junction.
There are several reasons for the disparity, including the planning of the city, gentrification, decay, and neighbourhood emergence. And the solution isn’t as easy as growing trees in lower-income areas.
“Areas with higher income have larger lots and lawn spaces where it’s easy to plant and grow a tree but try doing that at Yonge and Eglinton right on the corner,” Greene told Metro News, adding that maintaining a tree canopy in urban areas takes more work and money.
“Toronto is already committed to growing its canopy, but they need to think about canopy equity and equal access,” he pointed out.
The community group Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) is a tree planning service that promotes “protection and enhancement of the urban forest.” Their backyard tree planting program offers trees and shrubs to residents at a subsidized cost. Their website features tips and videos for property owners who want to plant their own trees.
Toronto currently has a 27 percent canopy coverage, but the goal is to reach 40 percent.
“Canopy of Advantage: Who benefits most from city trees?” was published in the Journal of Environmental Management.