The story is the same in nearly every city across the United States. With few exceptions, trees are sparse in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and more prominent in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. Redlining policies, dating back to the 1930s, laid the groundwork for this inequity.
American Forests is laser-focused on addressing this inequity by greening all — not just some — urban neighborhoods. It’s our moral imperative to do so, given how many life-saving and quality of life benefits — such as reduced heat-related illnesses and more jobs — that trees provide people. We want to create Tree Equity, which is about ensuring that all people experience the benefits of trees.
But how do we know if there are enough trees in a neighborhood so everyone can reap those benefits? Our Tree Equity Score (TES) tool answers this question. It calculates a score for all 150,000 neighborhoods and 486 municipalities in urban America — cities and nearby small towns that have at least 50,000 people. More than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in these urban places.
Each score indicates whether there are enough trees for everyone to experience the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide. The scores are based on how much tree canopy and surface temperature align with income, employment, race, age and health factors.
A 0- to-100-point system makes it easy to understand how a community fares. With the knowledge the score provides, community leaders, tree advocates and residents alike can address climate change and public health through the lens of social equity, attract new resources, factor the scores into technical decisions and track progress toward achieving Tree Equity. A score of 100 represents Tree Equity.
By The Numbers
The first release of Tree Equity scores across the country, in June 2021, reveals that we need to plant and protect 522 million trees within urbanized areas to achieve Tree Equity. Doing so would support 3.8 million jobs. Annually, the trees would mitigate 56,613 tons of particle pollution and absorb 9.3 million tons of carbon — the equivalent of taking 92 million cars off the roads.
Why Is Tree Equity Score Groundbreaking?
It provides a social-equity-focused narrative, goals and a guide path for building understanding, commitment and action about Tree Equity;
It moves beyond planting trees only. It incorporates the value of maintaining and protecting existing trees so that new trees are additive;
The rich, location-specific data is free and easy to access, addressing a significant issue between cities with varying resources. Anyone can use the tool to understand better how well their neighborhood and urbanized area fare in providing adequate tree canopy;
The data provides an unprecedented level of tree canopy detail at a national scale, thanks to a robust data layer supplied by EarthDefine. Additional local data layers can be incorporated through the Tree Equity Score Analyzer;
It is user-friendly. It provides detailed information on the neighborhoods and individual parcels of land where planting trees can result in Tree Equity. The tool also estimates and compares numerous tree planting scenarios’ climate and health impact, essential for planning, fundraising and policy action.
Tree Equity Score was created with the generous support of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, EarthDefine, The Summit Foundation, Microsoft, Seed Fund and the United States Forest Service.
Creating Tree Equity in Every Part of Every City
By 2030, American Forests’ goal is to have at least 100 cities across America achieve Tree Equity for all neighborhoods.
How Can Tree Equity Score Be Used?
Tree Equity Score can be used by neighborhood organizations, U.S. Congressional leaders and everybody in between. And it can be used by a variety of sectors, such as urban forestry and public health, given the role trees play in slowing climate change and advancing social equity. Some of the uses are:
Advocate: Use the scores to make a case for federal, state and local policies, programs, and funding related to protecting existing trees and planting new trees. For example, in Arizona, scores were used to help convince the Phoenix City Council to pledge in April 2021 to create Tree Equity — a first for any city in the U.S. Scores also are being used to educate Congressional leaders about the Climate Stewardship Act, proposed legislation that would result in 100 million new trees in urban areas of the U.S. by 2030, with an emphasis on trees in underserved neighborhoods. It would be the most considerable boost ever to the federal urban forestry program.
Plan: Urban land-use planners and others can use the scores to decide where and how to invest in forestry and infrastructure. The Tucson City Council and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero agreed in April 2021 to adopt the Tucson Tree Equity Score as the primary tool to prioritize investments for the city’s urban forestry initiative and infrastructure projects related to stormwater runoff. The Tucson tool is based on the American Forests TES methodology.
Improve: Use the scores to take a fresh look at an existing urban forestry program. Does the program prioritize planting trees in low-scoring neighborhoods? Scores can help track progress related to urban forestry programs and initiatives.
Inspire: The scores can be used to inspire people to work in the urban forestry field, where the need for people to plant, trim and prune trees is expected to grow 10% by 2028.
Advance Tree Equity by Supporting the TREES Act
The U.S. Congress is considering creating a new program that would plant 300,000 trees a year, mainly in underserved urban communities. Trees planted through this program would help mitigate climate change and absorb pollutants that are harmful to people with respiratory illnesses.
Urban Forest Climate and Health Menu and Species Selection Guide: This document outlines a process for and provides a menu of climate change adaptation strategies that can be used to design projects related to climate, health and urban forestry and select species that optimize climate and public health outcomes. Species selection guide is currently only available for Rhode Island.
Community Assessment & Goal-Setting Tool: For people who are already somewhat familiar with their community’s urban forest programs, this tools helps to measure program effectiveness against industry best practices.
Career Pathways Action Guide: An explanation of the 12 best practices for designing inclusive job training programs that help retain diverse talent and support people moving up the career ladder.
Career Exploration Guide: Geared toward high school and postsecondary students, this guide provides a snapshot of the qualifications needed for various urban forestry jobs.
Urban Wood Reuse Action Guide: Using Baltimore’s as an example, this guide walks you through creating a city program to collect, salvage, make and sell products from urban wood waste.
Tree Equity Funding, Financing and Policy Guide: Provides resources to state, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations to help make the case for funding the planting, care, and conservation of trees in a state. Currently only available for Rhode Island but has national relevance.
Dive Deeper Into Your Tree Equity Score
American Forests has developed Tree Equity Score Analyzer (TESA) for people in urban areas that want to dive deep into decision-making around Tree Equity and improve neighborhood scores. People can explore their score layer-by-layer to see how it relates to specific parcels of land. TESA also allows for the integration of additional data layers that are locally available. This will allow users to plan even more targeted tree planting projects that align with local climate, health and economic goals, identify tree planting opportunities, and to scope out different scenarios for tree projects. Rhode Island is home to the first TESA. Additional analyzers will be created in places where there is demand and investment.
Included in the Tree Equity Score Analyzer tool are carbon sequestration estimates and other co-benefits from the Impact Certification developed by our partner City Forest Credits and Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist who researches perceptions of nature in cities. The Impact Certification calculates the environmental, human health and equity benefits of tree planting projects. Cities rarely report on the impacts associated with their tree planting projects, other than the number of trees planted and volunteer hours contributed. The Impact Certification helps cities plan tree planting projects, develop different scenarios for the projects and identify parcel-specific planting opportunities.