What Is Tree Equity?
An analysis by Nature Canada in 2022 confirmed previous research that neighbourhoods with lower household incomes and larger BIPOC communities don't have as much access to trees and urban forests as wealthier and less culturally diverse communities. As the following map indicates, communities in northeast Calgary have less tree canopy than similarly aged communities in other parts of Calgary.
But new neighbourhoods in northeast Calgary are built on grasslands...
This is true, but did you know that heavily forested neighbourhoods like Mount Royal and Sunnyside were also built on grasslands? Now these neighbourhoods are over 100 years old, they've had a lot of time to grow mature trees. But that's not the whole story.
Both Mckenzie Lake and Taradale housing developments were built in the early 80's, but the McKenzie Lake neighbourhood has a 12% tree canopy while Taradale's tree canopy is only 2.7%. This is harder to explain and seems to be an example of an inequitable situation. Many trees were planted on public land around McKenzie Lake, but by contrast there were very few trees planted in the park surrounding Taradale Lake.
Why does it matter?
In the City of Calgary's Climate Strategy, a goal has been set to increase the city's average tree canopy from 8% to 16%. To be more fair, underserved communities should be receiving a lot more trees as Calgary Urban Forestry works to achieve the tree canopy target. Communities with low tree canopy deserve a more equitable share of trees.
There are many benefits to urban trees and forests, from providing cooler shade on increasingly hot summer days to attracting birds and pollinators. Trees combat the urban heat island effect by absorbing sunlight and releasing moisture to make the air feel cooler.
The tree leaves slow rainfall to reduce surge flooding during heavy rains and tree roots make the surrounding soil spongier, which absorbs and stores more rain water.
Trees are also known to filter the air and release aerosols that provide health benefits. Living among mature trees lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and increases the ability to recover from stress. In fact, a study in Portland covering 30 years of tree planting showed one premature death was avoided for every 100 trees planted. Trees save lives!!!
What can we do about it?
There are many reasons to plant trees and we shouldn't sit back and hope that the city decides to distribute trees more equally across all neighbourhoods. Communities can work with their city councillors to try and improve their share of trees planted each year. People can also take advantage of municipal tree planting initiatives or plant low cost seedlings on their property and watch them grow! It's up to all of us to pitch in and plant more trees and tiny forests in our communities and in our yards.
The Calgary Climate Hub will be holding a series of workshops to share ideas on how to bring more trees to your neighbourhoods. Watch for upcoming workshops on our Events page.
For more information on the Climate Hub's tree equity initiative, contact Saadiq Mohiuddin at [email protected].
Remember, Calgary average tree canopy coverage is 8%, but it is far from evenly distributed.
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