Recently, several articles from major newspapers, including the Washington Post) and Los Angeles Times, have illuminated the degree to which tree placement is an issue of social equity in cities. Scientific studies have shown that across the city-scape, trees and green space are largely present in wealthier city neighborhoods, with areas of least tree cover being in lower-income or minority neighborhoods. Unfortunately, this particularity has been true for many American cities, including the capital in Washington D.C.

Photo courtesy of Million Trees LA

Photo courtesy of Million Trees LA

Neighborhood trees serve more than an ornamental purpose. City trees reduce the risk of asthma in children, decrease energy use in homes and buildings, reduce crime, offer stress relief, filter polluted air and water, expand habitats for birds and small animals, improve driving habits, increase property value, etc.

So how can we improve tree canopies in under-served neighborhoods? It’s simple – we plant more trees. The next question is then: “How do we accomplish this?” Easy – we look to the groups that are already doing it,  and there are many organizations leading the charge! The following list is just a brief sampling of the organizations, cities, and groups that are working to improve tree canopies in otherwise undernourished cityscapes.

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Tree Trust

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Tree Trust

Global organizations and programs

  • The Earth Day Network established The Canopy Project to help plant trees in impoverished communities all over the world. Since 2010, the Project has planted over 1.5 million trees in 18 countries.  In the U.S., the Project has supported tree canopy restoration in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Flint, and Chicago.
    • The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation  plants fruit trees in food-scarce areas around the world. Recently the organization partnered with KPMG in San Antonio to plant fruit trees in two orchards that were accessible to an affordable housing area.

City and Community-based organizations and programs

Photo Courtesy of ACTrees (Alliance for Community Trees)

Photo Courtesy of ACTrees (Alliance for Community Trees)

These organizations and programs are only a few of those working to improve tree access and coverage in under-served areas. In looking closer, what you may notice about these organizations and others like them, is that they function largely through volunteers. This may be as an effort to keep planting costs down, but the greater advantage is that volunteers not only promote a sense of local pride in an area, they promote community along with new street-side saplings.

Post by Mariah Gleason.

Mariah is a graduate student, pursuing her Masters in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.