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Tree canopy is a human right.

Research has shown that neighborhoods with higher tree equity have lower crime rates, improved mental and physical health, and higher property values. 

Safe, accessible, green space in urban areas can reduce stress, violent crime, and gun violence, leading to safer communities. Poorly-maintained and badly-designed green space has the opposite effect. It can encourage and spread crime.

Trees also play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing air and water pollution, and providing habitat for wildlife. The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, daytime temperatures in urban areas are, on average, 1° to 6° F higher than in rural areas, while nighttime temperatures can be as much as 22° F higher, as the heat is gradually released from buildings and pavement.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, trees can have a substantial economic impact. Properly placed around buildings, trees can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 to 50 percent in energy used for heating.

Trees in U.S. urban and community areas reduce residential energy use by an average of 7.2 percent, which equates a national savings of $7.8 billion per year. Reduced energy use also lowers pollutant emissions from power plants, which equates to an additional $3.9 billion per year.

Prioritizing tree equity is not only a matter of social justice, but also a vital component of creating resilient and healthy environments for future generations in lower-income neighborhoods and those in which the majority populations are people of color.

Why tree equity?

Across the country, there are dramatic differences in tree canopy that follow racial and economic disparitiesin our communities.  In other words, there are more trees in high-income neighborhoods than in low-income neighborhoods, leading to inequities in access to the numerous benefits that trees provide.

According to American Forests:

  • Communities of color have, on average, 38 percent less tree cover and are over 10°F hotter than white communities; and
  • Lower income neighborhoods have 28 percent less cover and are nearly 7°F hotter than wealthier ones.

This is a trend that is all too familiar in Illinois' downstate urban communities. This disparity in tree canopy has far-reaching effects on income disparity, health, safety, and community well-being in central and southern Illinois.  You can look up your own community's tree equity score here, and there are many tools on our website that can help you assess opportunities for mitigating climate change and creating resilient communities through tree planting.

Friends for Tree Equity

Friends for Tree Equity, Illinois was formed to:

Address the lack of trees in downstate communities of all sizes, where redlining and other discriminatory policies have resulted in substantially fewer trees in neighborhoods with more low-income families and people of color, preventing people from accessing the health, social, economic, and environmental benefits trees provide. 

We are working with partners, community groups and municipalities to preserve, protect and expand trees and tree canopies, particularly in underserved communities downstate. Our partners include:  Faith in Place, Trees Forever, and Morton Arboretum’s Chicago Region Tree initiative. All have received funding from the $1.5 billion in grants made available by the Inflation Reduction Act to increase equitable access to trees and green spaces in urban and community forests. The announcement is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the Administration’s work to build a clean energy economy, advance environmental justice and create economic opportunities across the country.

Take a look at our website, then contact us if you are interested in planning a tree planting project. We believe community engagement and leadership is important to grow trees, and will partner to help you design a program that can uproot injustice in your community, one tree at a time.

Urban trees provide many benefits such as absorbing heat, filtering pollution, and absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. Photo: Willow Oak in City Park, USGS, public domain


NOTE:  The banner image isa 1937 HOLC "residential security" map of Philadelphia, classifying various neighborhoods by estimated "riskiness" of mortgage loans.[1]