Following decades of discriminatory housing and planning policies, many American neighborhoods today still remain segregated on socioeconomic lines. But in addition to differences in income levels, there’s also something else that differentiates these neighborhoods from richer ones — they have considerably fewer trees.
“If you look at a map of most American cities, you’ll find that tree canopy cover tracks along income lines,” said Sarah Anderson from the nonprofit American Forests. “Wealthier communities have more trees, and lower-income communities have fewer trees. And this is the result of decades of discriminatory housing and planning purposes.”
As part of its mission to promote social justice, the nonprofit is working on tree equity — bringing more greenery to the areas that most need it in cities, thus helping clean the air, keep neighborhoods cooler during heat waves, lower air-conditioning bills, reduce flooding, and improve mental health.
The nonprofit has recently partnered with the company Tazo Tea to create the “Tazo Tree Corps” to plant and care for trees in targeted neighborhoods in Detroit; Minneapolis; the Bronx; the Bay Area; and Richmond, Virginia.
“We’re working to employ folks from these communities — folks who are black, indigenous, and people of color — who bear the brunt of a lot of the challenges that come with climate change,” says Anderson, who serves as the director of career pathways at the organization.
After a couple of weeks of training, participants in the program have the possibility to transition into full-time employment. And the jobs also come with support like subsidies for transit and childcare. In the long run, Anderson says, it can also lead to careers.
“About a quarter of tree trimmers are self-employed in three years,” she says. “So there’s a real wealth-building opportunity here as well, not just environmental justice and climate justice, but economic justice as well.”