I was delighted a week ago when Jeff Horwich, a reporter and interim host for Marketplace Morning Report conducted an interview with Tim De Chant, whose blog entitled Per Square Mile I regularly read.
Back in May, De Chant delved into a 2008 study that very tightly correlated urban trees and neighborhood per capita income where he wrote:
“…they found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent.”
That’s a serious issue, especially in thriving, growing, highly acclaimed communities such as where I live in Durham, NC, where there is also a high rate of poverty. No, this isn’t about class warfare, but it also isn’t just about aesthetics.
Trees in urban areas improve property values, lower cooling costs, detoxify air and water and correlate with lower crime rates including domestic abuse; yet far too many local elected officials and government administrators appear to view them as a luxury rather than, as scientists do, as a form of critical infrastructure.
Thanks to recent state legislation, outdoor billboard companies with existing structures along roadways in Durham, where any new ones have been banned since 1984, are being permitted to clear-cut more than ten trees, nearly all in poor neighborhoods, for every one tree local elected officials have authorized urban foresters to reforest.
While Durham as a whole has a 3 to 1 ratio of trees to impervious surface acreage such as parking lots, sidewalks, streets, billboards etc., it is projected that an average of 4 acres per day will be converted by development from trees to impervious surface between now and 2040.
The situation is even more critical within the city limits where the ratio of remaining trees to impervious surface is now only 1.4 to 1. The ratio of trees in low income neighborhoods fell far into negative numbers decades ago.
It is well overdue for reforestation to win its rightful place in the mix of infrastructure that local government funds as part of sustaining a vibrant community and economy; and they should require an overarching, strategic interagency alliance of stormwater services, urban forestry, public works, planning, economic development, open space, general services and more.
To treat trees as a luxury is indeed a form of class warfare or discrimination.