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These are the neighbourhoods in most urgent need of trees

need of trees

Topic: These are the neighbourhoods in most urgent need of trees

Trees protect health and lower bills, and planting them in tree-poor communities of colour can have especially powerful benefits. Every weekend, a group of volunteers plant up to 50 trees in Soundview Park in New York City. Its 205 acres (83 ha) line the last mile of the Bronx River and are home to eastern box turtles, rare migratory birds and a family of coyotes. Many of the planters have been giving up their Saturdays for years. “Once you put your hands in the dirt, you feel like part of the park,” says John Vallacchi, a coordinator for the environmental justice non-profit the Bronx is Blooming. Just across the river are the communities of Hunts Point and Longwood, where 94% of its roughly 160,000 residents are people of colour. Among depots and dense apartment buildings is the largest food distribution centre in the world, Hunts Point Terminal Market. Up to 13,000 diesel trucks travel to the centre through this neighbourhood every day. This is one factor contributing to the area’s air pollution levels, some of the highest in the city. Despite its proximity to Soundview Park, the neighbourhood has “really low amounts of vegetation and experiences extremely high urban heat island impacts”, says Victoria Sanders, the climate and health programs manager at the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “It’ll be significantly hotter in one place than the other because of the investment [in green spaces] that one has gotten and the other has not.” The hope for each tree planted in Soundview Park is that it will sequester carbon, improve air quality, and help absorb water when storms hit. But planting a tree just over the river, on a busy stretch of sidewalk in a dense residential area, could have even greater benefits, according to new research. It’s well known that greater access to nature has a range of benefits, such as improved cognitive function, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity and sleep. (Read more about the groups tackling racial inequality in green spaces.) Across the US, minority neighbourhoods have 11% less tree canopy and 14% more artificially built surface area, such as asphalt and cement, than majority-white neighbourhoods. This disparity is greatest in the north-east of the US. Here, cities are characterised by dense centres of minority neighbourhoods and leafier suburbs as well as exurbs where white communities are more likely to reside. “Certain communities were excluded from having services like trees and all of the cooling and cleansing benefits that they provide,” says Benita Hussain, the chief programme officer for tree equity at the non-profit American Forests. A new study by researchers at The Nature Conservancy has calculated just how much health and energy benefits an ambitious and targeted tree-planting programme across the US would have. Targeted planting in areas historically lacking trees – which are predominantly communities of colour – would pay for itself in the health and power bills it would offset, the researchers found.

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Topic Discussed: These are the neighbourhoods in most urgent need of trees

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