Poor color communities have fewer trees that provide shade and fight climate change



If you fly over Los Angeles, you can likely see the economic differences. How? Just look at the trees.

Poor communities have fewer trees than shade providers and fight climate change

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Poorer color communities in Los Angeles have fewer trees and consequently less shade.


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“The absence of treetops has many … public health implications, it really is a public health crisis,” said Ariel Lew Ai Le Whitson, the director of education and community for Tree People, an environmental nonprofit.

Reduced access to green spaces can lead to “tremendous mental and physical problems” in communities, Whitson said.

She said green spaces can help people with mental health problems, but the biggest problem for her is urban heat.

Some studies show that trees can cool the air temperature by up to 10% and the surface temperature by up to 45 degrees.

“That’s an incredible statistic,” said Whitson.

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National Geographic environmental reporter Alejandra Borunda has been researching the shadow divide in Los Angeles for almost two years. Their results appear in the July issue of National Geographic.

Borunda and her team drove down Vermont Avenue from South Los Angeles to Los Feliz and found the stark differences in order to stamp out their discriminatory origins: red-lining.

“One of the things that have the clearest connection is this policy, this racist housing policy that the federal government enacted in the 1930s and which we now often refer to as red-lining,” said Borunda.

“They literally put red lines around neighborhoods that were mostly populated by colored people, making it harder for those areas to get federally subsidized home loans, and that started this divestment cycle that really has a clear impact on the shape of the neighborhoods we do see her today, “she continued.

ABC7’s own analysis of the California Health Places Index data found that the disinvestment cycle discussed by Borunda continues to this day.

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The HPI measures the tree canopy weighted according to population. In other words, it measures the average tree cover of people near their home.

In census areas where the median household income is less than $ 40,000, or $ 40,000 to $ 60,000 per year, the canopy makes up about half the canopy that people experience in census counts where the median household income is more than $ 120,000 – dollars per year.

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ABC7 also found that in the city of LA, census counts with more trees correlated with cooler temperatures.

Those with more than 7% average tree cover near their homes had surface temperatures at least three to four degrees cooler than census areas with less than 7% tree cover, according to an analysis of tree cover data from the HPI and temperature data from the NASA Landsat 8 satellite, collected by NPR and shared via open source code.

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“There are solutions, proven solutions, data science-backed solutions,” said Whitman.

“And those solutions are tree planting,” she continued.

Whitson and her team at Tree People have worked for years to encourage communities to plant more trees, especially in colored, low-income communities in South LA, Southeast LA, and the San Fernando Valley. The city guides are now following their example.

The city of Los Angeles is in the process of planting 90,000 trees by the end of 2021.

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Burbank is also doing its part to maintain a rich canopy of trees by giving residents three trees a year for free and businesses 20 trees a year. They also provide an arborist to oversee the process.

The Smith family jumped in on the offer.

“They are already starting to make our backyard beautiful, but also to reduce our energy bills,” said Kristen Smith of Burbank.

Burbank water and power has sponsored a similar program for around 10 years, but the city council launched its own “Plants for a Greener Burbank” initiative in late 2020. The goal of planting 500 trees in 2021 has already been exceeded.

“We’re not stopping here, we will continue our efforts to help the greater Los Angeles area,” said Grace Coronado, an administrative analyst for the city of Burbank.

National Geographic environmental reporter Alejandra Borunda believes more shade can help communities deal with the effects of climate change.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that we can use to make people more resilient when we tackle a problem that will only be harder to deal with in the future,” she said.

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