The unsurprising link between redlining and shade trees

A guest editorial highlighting the unsurprising link between redlining and shade trees by Codey Stout at

The Disparity in Tree Canopy Cover

Myrtle Avenue is a commercial corridor in the neighborhood of Moncrief. Moncrief was considered a redlined neighborhood in the HOLC maps. Today, this corridor lacks tree canopy cover in comparison to similar corridors in neighborhoods that were not redlined.

The fact that redlining had adverse socio-economic effects such as high levels of unemployment, residential vacancy, and living in the less desirable areas is generally accepted. However, the environmental effects of the policy have been mainly overlooked.

Dexter Locke and his colleagues conducted a study entitled “Residential housing segregation and urban tree canopy in 37 US cities” published by the journal npj Urban Sustainability in 2021. The study results show that “areas formerly graded D, which were mostly inhabited by racial and ethnic minorities, have on average ~23% tree canopy cover today.”

On the other hand, the same article states that “Areas formerly graded A, characterized by U.S.-born white populations living in newer housing stock, had nearly twice as much tree canopy (~43%).”

Another study published by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives agrees with the conclusions above. The researchers conclude that “neighborhoods that had lower HOLC grades in the past tended to have fewer green resources like parks and trees in the present day.”

Why Does Tree Canopy Matter?

The Shoppes of Avondale were developed during a similar time period as Moncrief’s Myrtle Avenue corridor. However, Avondale was not redlined in the HOLC maps. The difference in the two corridors today serves as an example legacy of redlining.

The findings above indicate that there is a strong connection between tree canopy and HOLC grades. But how does the disparity in tree canopy affect communities?

Dexter Locke and his colleagues have the answer: “Trees are an important component of the urban environment.” The scholars add that the trees “reduce the urban heat island effect and provide a number of other public health benefits such as crime reduction.”

In her piece published by, Linda Poon reports that the lower canopy cover in low-income and minority neighborhoods results in such places getting significantly warmer than surrounding areas because of the urban heat island effect. Typically, such areas have fewer trees and other cooling infrastructure that provide shade.

Poon’s views are supported by a 2020 study published by the journal Climate, which revealed that “94% of studied areas display consistent city-scale patterns of elevated land surface temperatures in formerly redlined areas relative to their non-redlined neighbors by as much as 7 °C.” The researchers add that at the national level, formerly redlined areas are around 2.6 °C warmer compared to those that were never redlined.

Does Redlining Still Happen?

Indeed, redlining was outlawed in the 1960s, but Poon cites Calvin Gladney of Smart Growth America, a nonprofit organization aiming to create sustainable communities, who says, “just because you take away a rule doing damage at the time, that damage doesn’t go away.”

Jenna Leventoff, a senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, argues that “The same neighborhoods that were once redlined by banks and insurance companies now face similar discrimination by internet service providers.” Public Knowledge is an organization that helps shape policy on behalf of the public interest.

Brentin Mock agrees with Leventoff in his article entitled “Redlining is Alive and Well—and Evolving.” Mock argues that even though banks may be banned from practicing unfair discrimination based on race, they will “find some other application to filter out undesirable borrowers.”

Finding Solutions to the Redlining Legacy

We can talk all we want about the effects of redlining, but that will achieve very little if we can’t come up with ways of mitigating them. The National League of Cities has some suggestions:

  • Study the history of your city to get a better understanding of how it was affected by redlining.
  • Cities should get staff members dedicated to ensuring that residual racism is eliminated and implicit racist policies are reversed.
  • Provide incentives to businesses that invest in formerly redlined areas.

Even though the government can help reverse the lingering effects of redlining, you can also play your part as an individual. Something as simple as growing a tree or coming together as communities to look after the local parks can go a long way in improving our environments.

Article originally published at Tree Triage