CEO, Tree Canada
Canada — the globe’s second-biggest country — has a seemingly endless variety of wild landscapes, and our vast forests and nature are what attract many to visit. Despite having one of the highest numbers of trees per capita worldwide with an estimated 8,953 trees per person, not all Canadians have equal access to those trees and their benefits. With over 80 percent of the population now living in urban areas, municipalities have begun focusing their efforts on increasing the equitable access of urban trees and green spaces for all residents.
The importance of equitable tree access
Studies done in Toronto 1,2, Montreal, and many cities in the U.S.3,4 have shown that a map of tree cover is often also a map of race and income, with those living in lower-income or more racialized neighbourhoods tending to have fewer trees and lower access to them. Alternatively, those neighbourhoods with a higher median income contain more trees with easier access to them.
The events of the pandemic have shone a light on many societal inequalities and the uneven distribution of trees and environmental services across municipalities is yet another. Understanding that access to green spaces, urban trees, parks, and trails is a social determinant of public health will allow health care professionals, urban foresters, and municipal city planners to extend the benefits trees provide by supporting socially-just tree policy, planning, and management.
Creating equitable tree access
In 2020, American Forests launched a Tree Equity Score to highlight the resource allocations required for equitable canopy distribution in cities. Further, in 2021, the Trust for Public Land added an equity factor to its annual ParkScore index.
As municipalities across Canada work to create equitable tree access, a common target to achieve is a 30 percent tree canopy coverage. Looking at this percentage closer, it’s important to meet this target at the more granular neighbourhood level, not just municipality-wide, identifying first-hand those neighbourhoods with a lower canopy cover.
Possible solutions to the sometimes limited planting space in these neighbourhoods can include breaking up existing concrete areas to expand soil areas for planting, choosing tree species that may flourish in smaller areas, or possibly creating incentive programs for private property owners if public space is limited. In addition, it’s equally vital to protect and maintain any existing canopy or trees that currently exist — especially since good things like trees take a long time to develop and thrive.
At Tree Canada, we’re hopeful for a greener and equitable future and are always encouraged by the municipalities we work with that are taking the necessary steps to increase their canopy cover equitably among all the neighbourhoods in their communities.
We understand that just as ecosystem health is commonly determined by a measure of biodiversity, so too should the health of our communities be determined by the shared prosperity, happiness, and safety of all its residents.
So, on this 10th anniversary of National Tree Day, consider your own communities and how your trees, parks, and green spaces are distributed. Trees, as we’ve come to discover especially this past year, bring us many benefits and they should benefit everyone.