« IQ, Self Discipline, and Success | Main | If A Tree Falls, Who's to Blame? »

July 22, 2012

Trees as Exclusionary Weapons of Income Inequality

For the insufficiently outraged among the villainry, the Editorial Staff offer fresh evidence of the selfish, resource hogging perfidy of the Evillest One Percent. Arboreal inequality:

It isn’t always easy to spot income inequality. The disparate distribution of money among a population based on race, gender and other factors could take place in your own neighborhood, and you may not even realize it. Even when college courses and movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, try to teach people about the subject, it still remains difficult to comprehend.

On Google Maps, however, it’s pretty simple to see definitive lines of income inequality. And the tool can help us better understand how this inequality affects the integration of communities.

Tim De Chant discovered this phenomenon last month. De Chant is a journalist and ecologist who writes about population density and urbanization on his blog, Per Square Mile. He came across a March 2008 study that showed a correlation between tree density and income in urban areas.

According to the authors of the study, who surveyed 210 U.S. cities with populations greater than 100,000 people, when the population’s average income increases in a given area, the demand for trees also increases. Therefore, wealthier neighborhoods often have denser tree cover than poorer areas, making the tree a luxurious commodity.

... “The study says the relationship between tree cover and income is purely correlational, and I agree — to a point,” De Chant says. “Trees [also] provide numerous benefits that can save people money, which would make them wealthier in real terms, even if their incomes didn’t rise. Shade can reduce cooling costs in the summer. Trees filter out particulate pollution, which in turn reduces asthma incidences, cutting health expenses. They reduce stress and make people more productive at work. Tall trees also reduce crime, which can definitely help your bottom line if you live in a robbery-prone neighborhood.”

If ever we've seen an issue urgently requiring the swift intervention of the federal government, this is it. After all, as our author boldly asserts, arboreal inequality "affects the integration of communities"! To the trained eyeball, the weapons of exclusion and privilege are as obvious as the unearned gender privilege that oozes from a capitalist's every pore:

The partners tell Mashable about a book called Landscapes of Privilege by James and Nancy Duncan, which tackles the issue of “how the aesthetics of physical landscapes are fully enmeshed in producing the American class system.”

Never mind that these same experts attribute the alarming rise in Arboreal Inequality to misguided government intervention:

... our cities haven’t developed according to some natural law of urbanization or according to some invisible hand,” Armborst, D’Oca and Theodore write collectively in an email to Mashable. “They have been shaped by big and small decisions, many of them bad.”

The partners explained that suburbanization probably wouldn’t have bloomed without federal mortgage insurance, the mortgage deduction or the Interstate Highway Act. Nor would the suburbs be so segregated were it not for policies that made it easy for suburban communities to write and enforce exclusionary zoning codes, even when they violated the Fair Housing Act.

“The point is that things don’t ‘just happen.’ Behind every outcome in the built environment is a decision and tool crafted to enforce that decision,” says Interboro Partners.

There's a beautiful symmetry to the notion that the remedy for government intervention that had the unintended consequence of increasing income inequality turns out to be more government intervention. Surely, the only thing keeping the Evil One Percent from indulging their beautiful and natural desire for diversity and social justice is an insufficient appreciation for the subtle ways in which trees create and then reinforce artificial class divisions.

The sooner the rich are forced to give up their exclusionary gated communities and Landscapes of Privilege and move to the projects, the better we'll all be.

Posted by Cassandra at July 22, 2012 08:01 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Just thinking out loud here, but aren't you going to find more trees in neighborhoods with bigger lots? I don't how we're ever going to achieve equality if we let people choose their own houses and lots and pay whatever they're willing or able to pay for them. We need a centralized housing committee to allocate housing resources fairly. You didn't build that house.

Also, I'm struggling a little with the idea that tall trees reduce crime . . . ?

Posted by: Texan99 at July 23, 2012 09:31 AM

And having looked at the link now (yes, the comments are priceless), I'd say that tree was as dead as Queen Anne -- no roots at all. To tell the truth, if it had been on my property, I think I would have taken it down, and I would have felt responsible if it had fallen on a passerby.

What a way to go for the driver, huh? It's not really what you expect to happen to you. It reminds you of one of those jokes about the guys explaining themselves to St. Peter ("I was just sitting in this refrigerator").

Posted by: Texan99 at July 23, 2012 09:39 AM

Tall trees reduce crime because....shut up! That's why!

I think is an example of the reversal of causality , but I could be wrong.

As to all the suburban racist nonsense, in my racist suburban neighborhood, our next door neighbors are Chinese, and the family in the house that backs up to our yard is Black (well, really they're brown). My sons have gone to a very racially integrated high school in this vast white suburban wasteland.

And I have planted a lot of trees in my yard because it is aesthetically pleasing, several of which were planted against the wishes of the home owners association. I may yet cut them down.

Heh. That white male patriarchial HOA. Full of busybodies.

And the suburbs really grew for one good reason. The urban schools in much of the country have gone to crap. I live in suburban Columbus,Ohio, and I live here solely because the City of Columbus city schools stink on ice.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 23, 2012 10:14 AM

Also, I'm struggling a little with the idea that tall trees reduce crime . . . ?

That's not what I heard from the Sheriff of Nottingham.


This reminds me of Virginia Postrel's recent piece on the subject of how urban planning is behind inequality. I thought she had a pretty good point: the reason is that cities that work against "sprawl" type housing have more expensive housing, which tends to drive out many of the lower classes.

This isn't necessary detrimental to them, she points out: the plumber may have moved from NYC to some backwater like Atlanta, and it's true that he can't make as much money in Atlanta. But it's also true that his lower housing cost means a higher standard of living for him, though this will show up as "inequality" on the charts (because he's making less money, the 'gap' in incomes is growing).

Posted by: Grim at July 23, 2012 11:11 AM

January, 1996. A tree fell on the Mothership, requiring some time in the shop. I was devastated at the time, as the higher ranks (more moneyed) had covered parking, but we did not.

I could not sue anyone, so my remediation was to cry to my insurance company, which did cover the damage. Sadly, an activist role in searching for either car ports or to take them away so their vehicles would have the same chances mine did was denied me. It is all about leveling the playing field, yanno.

Posted by: Carolyn at July 23, 2012 03:04 PM

So, what's the takeaway here--all those clearcutting lumber companies actually were just helping out the 99%? How could the Earth First!-ers be so wrong?

I'm struggling a little with the idea that tall trees reduce crime....

They make for better hangings.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 23, 2012 06:04 PM