In search of tree equity

The Twin Cities have serious livability problems that stare us in the face every damn day. They can be refined through the filter of statistical disparities, but most of us can see what it’s all about with such analysis as framed by the left. Indeed, the analysis presented by the left obfuscates the problems.

Today’s Star Tribune delivers one such statistical disparity that might be at the the bottom of any sane person’s worry list: “Twin Cities’ communities of color hurt most by lack of trees.” Subhead: “A tornado made it worse.”

The Star Tribune assigned two reporters and two graphic artists to go deep on this Pulitzer-worthy story. Here are the the key points — the shade, if you will — through which readers must amble before getting to the story proper (emphases omitted):

Every spring, as the Twin Cities’ beloved trees leaf out into a green canopy, some neighborhoods look like an unbroken forest, with branches arching over houses and streets.

But others are a harder landscape of rooftops, yards and concrete. Trees are few, scrawny or nonexistent.

“Trees are not distributed evenly around the region. There are real inequities,” said Met Council data scientist Ellen Esch. “That has major consequences … not only on individuals, but on the livability, on the prosperity and on everything in our region.”

* * * * *

Martha Burton, a St. Paul resident, doesn’t need data to appreciate the vast difference between the 43% tree canopy in Highland Park, her current neighborhood, and the 23% tree canopy in Frogtown, a poorer neighborhood where she lived for 20 years.

“[Highland Park] is so comfortable to walk in; you’re just not as exposed to the sun. There’s a psychological calming when you’re in spaces with trees. In Frogtown you feel so exposed … It’s so stark.”

* * * * *

In Minneapolis, nearly 38% of the Southwest community is protected from the hot summer sun by a lush tree canopy — and in some areas it’s more than half. This helps limit the high surface temperatures to around 80 or 90 degrees.

* * * * *

A few miles away, most of Near North has tree coverage of 30% or less. Some of this is due to massive tree loss in a 2011 tornado. Thermometers here are more likely to reach 100 degrees in the summer, leading to higher cooling costs and more risk for heat stroke and other illnesses.

* * * * *

Across the Twin Cities, neighborhoods with the lowest tree canopy levels — such as Near North, Phillips, North End and Frogtown — are disproportionately populated by people of color, while areas with the thickest tree canopy tend to have the lowest share of people of color.

* * * * *

With its new data tool, called Growing Shade, the Met Council is pinpointing the neighborhoods suffering the most from the patchwork urban forest, giving policymakers and nonprofits guidance on where to focus their reforestation efforts.

But it will not be easy. Tens of thousands of trees have been lost to storms and invasive pests. Restoring them will require persuading renters and private landowners to plant and care for trees that will be enjoyed decades from now.

The Star Tribune is promoting this story by email as one of its Sunday Best and who can argue? Ammo Grrrll, call your office. I’m filing this under Laughter is the best medicine.

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