Environmental Equity and Urban Forests

Environmental Equity and Urban Forests

The field of environmental justice is concerned with inequitable exposure to environmental harm and equitable access to environmental goods. Exposure and access is often studied with respect to race, ethnicity, and income. Urban forests provide many benefits to urban residents that live and work among them, but if residents have unequal access to urban forests, then they have unequal access to the benefits they provide. If inequity persists over time, over an array of public goods and services, inequity accrues and manifests in significant effects on health and well-being. Two related projects led by BUFRG researcher Shannon Lea Watkins are examining environmental equity in the urban forest both by studying the distribution of the urban forest (“Meta-analysis”) and drivers of that distribution (“Is Planting Equitable?”).


Many scholars have examined the distribution of urban forests to determine whether they are equitably distributed throughout cities and results differ across studies. Shannon and fellow SPEA PhD graduate Ed Gerrish are conducting a meta-analysis of previous studies using the following methodology:

  1. We employ a systematic literature search to identify original studies which examine this relationship
  2. We code all acceptable studies
  3. We estimate the average relationship across studies between urban forest cover and (i) race and (ii) income, and
  4. We identify some of the drivers of variation in the distribution of urban forest cover between studies.

Is Planting Equitable?

While there is a wealth of research about the distribution of the urban forest, few studies have considered the distributional impacts of current urban forestry activities (e.g. tree planting, tree maintenance).

In our recently published paper, "Is planting equitable? An examination of the spatial distribution of nonprofit urban tree-planting programs by canopy cover, income, race, and ethnicity", we examine the distribution of tree planting locations of our NUCFAC partners.