A few years ago, Tim De Chant of Per Square Mile wrote about the relationship between income inequality and tree cover in cities (1), citing a 2012 study which found that demand for forest cover increased and decreased with income (2). He also found that the results were easily visible from space- that in many cases wealthier neighbourhoods had visibly more trees than poorer neighbourhoods (3). Hundreds of readers responded to De Chant’s requests for more examples, contributing their own images from Google Earth (4). For the most part, this pattern seems to apply to Saskatoon. The difference between the East and West sides of the river are pretty glaring (see the examples below). The trend seems to apply less to the newer, wealthier neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city like Briarwood, Erindale, and Arbor Creek, and the low-income core neighbourhood of Caswell Hill appears to have fairly high tree cover.
Urban trees have a number of important benefits, and shouldn’t be considered a luxury good. The solution to disparities in tree cover, however, may not be as simple as planting more trees in low-income neighbourhoods. In a recent study, which revealed a strong positive correlation between urban tree cover and income, the authors note that the in low-income neighbourhoods residents might actually resist increases in tree cover to avoid gentrification, and costs associated with tree maintenance (5). Furthermore, their findings suggest that these disparities in tree cover may be exacerbated in cities with less precipitation, because in arid climates the resources required to grow and maintain trees are more limited. If a city makes plans to increase tree cover in disadvantaged areas, potential costs to the residents and long-term maintenance plans need to be considered.
Screengrab from Google Earth (Click image to explore)