November 10, 2022

Planting for Environmental Justice

Written by
A map showing Salt Lake City's historic redlining A map showing Salt Lake City's historic redlining Courtesy of the Utah Division of Cultural Affairs

Trees are essential pieces of our community spaces. They improve our lives by cleaning our air, cleaning our water, providing shade, lowering temperatures in the summer, and lowering our utility bills in the winter by blocking wind. They are, of course, also beautiful - standing tall, adding to the rich scenery of our community. However, distribution of trees within communities is often inequitable. Neighborhoods with greater socioeconomic advantages are lined with them, while tree coverage is often sparse in poorer neighborhoods. These poorer neighborhoods are left without the benefits that trees can provide.

On average, wealthier neighborhoods have 15% more tree coverage. In the Summer, wealthier neighborhoods are on average 3ºF cooler than poor neighborhoods, making them much more comfortable places to live, work, and play. All year round, these neighborhoods also benefit from cleaner air and a more vibrant urban landscape. Children in wealthier neighborhoods have more areas where they can play safely and they are far less likely to develop childhood asthma, thanks to the protection offered by vegetative diversity.

This inequitable distribution of trees is in part a result of redlining, an effort in the early- to mid-1900s to curb investments and economic growth in certain urban areas due to their racial makeup. Redlining has resulted in decades of ongoing disadvantage, leaving generations of people within these communities with the responsibility of playing catch-up without much-needed support.

As shown by the Tree Equity Score mapping tool created by the national nonprofit American Forests, Salt Lake City’s neighborhoods with the greatest need for support in getting more trees planted are mostly on the west side. This aligns with Salt Lake City’s history of redlining - the majority of redlined neighborhoods were located on the west side of the city. The same is found in Ogden - neighborhoods in the northwest portion of the city are both the ones the are in most need of trees and were historically redlined.

These inequities are the reason for TreeUtah’s dedication to environmental justice. We want to plant trees where they’re needed most, so these underserved communities can experience the same benefits trees have brought to wealthier neighborhoods for decades. Why plant trees where they’re already plentiful when so many streets in our community are bare? We are proud to do our part in creating an equity-conscious, tree-filled community in service of the present and future generations in every corner of Utah.

To get involved, check out our events page for volunteer opportunities. Our busiest planting seasons are in the Spring (March-May) and Fall (August-November).