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Tree Equity: “Good Shade” Project to Address Shade Disparities in LA

Photo source: Good Shade

Besides creating attractive places to walk, run, bike, play, and meet, having access to green space is associated with lower stress levels and greater well-being. Urban trees, in particular, provide countless benefits to the areas they occupy. 

On a recent sunny Wednesday morning, a group of about 15 individuals, from all walks of life, gathered at Alondra Community Regional Park in Los Angeles, California.The group was here to bring equity to their neighborhood and plant a few trees—50, to be exact.

Anastasia King, founder of Radical Resilience Lab, and Rachel Payne, founder of The Tree Pledge.

Good Shade organized the Jan 13, 2021, event to bring more shade to parts of the park that were lacking trees: a patch of dirt adjacent to the urban lake; the area surrounding the children’s playground; and scattered throughout the park along pedestrian walkways. Rachel Payne, founder of The Tree Pledge, along with Anastasia King and Virginia Galloway of Radical Resilience Lab, view trees as more than just pretty landscaping. Committed to addressing climate change and environmental justice, they approached Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation to see if they could work together, and bring trees to where they were needed the most.

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“Trees become members of the community,” says King. In short, we can build relationships around the trees in our lives, and the program is also a way to “communicate the connection between trees and health—what trees actually do for our air quality,” she adds. Planting more trees in urban settings, with community advice and engagement, is a way for urban dwellers to connect with themselves as well as with nature in their environment.

Trees become members of the community. —@GoodShade_La Click To Tweet

Via heat maps, the county identified places with the lowest ratio of tree canopy. And, generally speaking, places with more shade are more affluent—less shade, less so—otherwise known as “shade inequity.”

Distribution of high-income households across LA County

Alondra, located in a corridor between highways, near the communities of Gardena, Lawndale, and Torrance, fit the profile for a high-need area. In this corridor, people who live within a 10-minute walk of the park carry a pollution burden of 87%. The area is bordered by a census tract with a pollution burden of 91-100% – the highest level in LA County. To compare, nearby Manhattan Beach, just a few miles to the west, has a pollution score of 57—one of the lowest in the area. 

According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, approximately 74 people per 10,000 in this census tract visited the emergency department for asthma, bringing the asthma percentile for this area to over 81.37; meaning the asthma rate is higher than 81.37% of the census tracts in California. In addition, there are only 2.3 acres per 1,000 residents, where a more comprehensive park plan calls for at least 5-6 acres per 1,000. Clearly, the park and the area around it could use more trees.

[Related: VIDEO—What is Walkability?]

“It’s not a coincidence that this area has a higher incidence of asthma-related emergency room visits than most other California census tracts—we know that there is a direct link between respiratory risk and the number of trees in the environment,” explains Payne. “Having green spaces and clean air should not be linked to your income,” she adds.

Trees are a natural buffer between highways, reduce pollution by exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen, and more shade means people spend more time outdoors—exercising, playing, relaxing, and walking. Trees provide food, safe haven for a variety of wildlife, increase property values, and improve emotional and physical health. Indeed, there is a disproportionate benefit for every tree you plant—the gift of shade and green space far outweighing any cost or labor involved in getting that tree in the ground. And they don’t just provide shade, trees actually cool the air.

 

“Trees are a step toward community resilience and, they’re the beginning, not the end,” says Payne. Future plans for Good Shade include planting more trees in up to 11 parks throughout LA County, in similar areas that need more urban shade. Community-centered job creation as well as food gardenscapes are also in the works. All of this, of course, is primarily dependent on funding. As of now, activities are supported financially by CALFIRE and California ReLeaf. Good Shade LA is looking to expand resources to include more private, state, and county funding. The LA Department of Water and Power also has a program called City Plants where they give free trees to LA residents to plant in their own yards. If the trees are to be planted in the front yard between the sidewalk and the street (directly benefitting walkers and the neighborhood) – then in some instances, the organization will also plant them for you.

Trees are a step toward community resilience and, they’re the beginning, not the end.—@TreePledge Click To Tweet

The backbone of the project, quite literally, is the Los Angeles Conservation Corps—a program where at-risk individuals from the community receive training, educational support, employment, and job placement assistance. These were the dedicated people who dug through hard dirt to plant the new trees in the park. Many of them expressed how happy they were to be giving back in this way. 

And all this under the cloud of COVID-19, during a peak period of infection rates in Los Angeles. But it was a way to gather safely, give back, and even though all safety protocols were followed, including social distancing and masking, it was easy to forget about the deadly virus for a day. The planting of these 50 trees constituted a wonderful shared moment to enhance an essential public gathering space.

[Related: Built Environment Impact on Public Health]

“This is something we’d been working on for a while, and planting these trees is wonderful and inspiring. All of these people came together for a shared purpose,” Rachel Payne, exclaimed. In this highly diverse community, where different languages ranging from Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, and English are all commonly heard, a community came together. To bring shade to their park, and to tackle, head-on, air quality and, by extension, shade equity, and public health.

...planting these trees is wonderful and inspiring. All of these people came together for a shared purpose. —@TreePledge Click To Tweet

Open spaces are a place to heal the stresses and worries of our lives and to engage in physical movement which is a catalyst for health. When we need to connect with nature and ourselves and take a respite from the challenges of life, Virginia Galloway says, “the trees around you are there for you.”

 

Dan Burden, Blue Zones Director of Innovation and Inspiration states, “Urban trees are of great value to people living, working, shopping, sharing, walking, and motoring in and through urban places. For a planting cost of $250-$600 (including first three years of maintenance), a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social, and natural) in the lifetime of the tree. Street trees provide so many benefits to those streets they occupy, that they should always be considered as a default urban area street making feature.”

 

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