How tree planting is fighting racial injustice and climate change in the Twin Cities’ poorest neighborhoods


TMetropolitan Council data scientists quickly recognized a pattern when they began mapping the patchy tree canopy of the Twin Cities.

Neighborhoods with the fewest trees were in the same areas where discriminatory lending practices had separated people of color, and highway construction traversed black neighborhoods. Communities with abundant tree cover were not affected by segregation policies or massive infrastructure projects that uprooted entire communities.

“Once you see it, once you point it out to you, you can’t just ignore it,” said Eileen Eich, a prominent data scientist with the Metropolitan Council.

Repairing this long-standing infestation of tree cover has become a new urgent necessity. Trees are now recognized as essential protection against the increasing risks of heat and flooding due to climate change, and as a vital tool for absorbing gases that are making the planet hotter.

Paul’s Highland Park is more fertile and less exposed than lower-income Frogtown.

The Met Council, a regional planning body, cannot enforce mandates to fix this problem, so planners provide data and guidance for cities and nonprofits to take action. Their report, called Shadow growingidentifies parts of the metro area where the Meteorological Board sees environmental injustice, as well as other areas where insufficient tree cover raises concerns about public health and climate change.

Guided by this new data, recent work to reforest private property in the metro area has focused on encouraging rather than asking homeowners and landlords to do so.

States can fail, too. Esch said planners are always wary of “lessons from Detroit” — a 2014 planting program that led to a quarter of residents saying they didn’t want a new tree, in part because They considered it a burden that the city imposed on them.

So far, a small group of city governments and nonprofit groups have captured the data to launch new programs or get more support for existing ones. Esch said she and her colleagues at the Met Council are hopeful that word will spread about Growing Shade, and so do these projects.

And in coming years, Met Council data may determine how new federal dollars can fill in the gaps.

The Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress in August, the largest Climate spending package In US history, $1.5 billion is directed to planting trees in urban areas. The money will be available through federal grants that cities, counties, states, and nonprofit organizations must apply for.

“Sadness Tree” in Frogtown

In St Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, the tree gap is particularly severe—the area has the thinnest canopy on private land in St. Paul, and is home to 75% of the population of color.

Joseph Sebast, a resident of Frogtown, lost a large tree to rot. He moved to Minnesota from Seattle last year, anticipating that the tree would be a part of his family’s life, and that they would be more worried about the cold of winter than the heat of summer.

Now he lost the shade that used to protect his house with the rising sun. Sebast’s electric bill has skyrocketed since he purchased two additional air conditioners to air-condition the window. He hopes to plant a new tree, but there are obstacles.

“Even though I get a good salary and a good work-life balance, I still had a hard time finding the money and time to do the research I needed to be able to figure out what trees to plant…and then figured out how to grow them myself.”

The Martha Burton family is still saddened by the first tree they lost when they moved to Frogtown. She comes from a long line of tree lovers, and was excited that a tree expert would come and prepare the maples for winter.

Burton was at work one day when she got a call telling her that the tree was dangerous and she had to get down immediately. She left her family with a hotter home and much less privacy.

said Burton, who moved to Highland Park.

Frogtown Green, an initiative launched in 2008, is working to bridge the gap in these lost trees. The majority of residents are renters, so the group educates landlords and landlords about the financial benefits of trees. So far, they have planted 600 trees to achieve their goal of 1,000 trees by 2025.

The program is not just about making the squares more comfortable.

“Our primary goal is to make clear in the minds of everyone who lives in Frogtown that one or more trees will help tackle climate change,” said founder and director Patricia Omans. But she said it could be hard to convince far-flung landlords to get involved.

climate motive

Mayor Jake Spano said, as in Frogtown, climate change has also been a major driver of canopy deployment across St. Louis Park. The city’s tree cover ranges from more than 50% in some residential areas to less than 20% in others.

“Our climate has highlighted the importance and value of trees,” Spano said. “It has become more urgent and important in the last decade.”

But with a new tree-planting program, the city is now responding to two new stressors — a hotter atmosphere and the emerald ash borer, a formidable pest that has established itself in a corridor around the Twin Cities and extending to the southeast of the Department of Natural Resources. Describes as Infested in general.

Michael Bahi, the city’s director of natural resources, said the city has been able to stay on top of replacing dead ash trees in public areas, but “that’s a small part of our canopy place in St. Louis Park.”

Beginning this spring, St. Louis Park introduced trees through Tree Trust. It was a full service process, including visits from a tree specialist to find the best place to plant, and workers to put it in the ground.

Using Met Council data, the city set its prices: Residents pay $35 in environmental sanitation priority areas, $115 for ash replacement, and $150 elsewhere.

Of the 27 trees planted so far, 22 have been planted in priority areas of the city. This fall, the Tree Trust is set to plant another 65.

“What St. Louis Park is doing now is very innovative, in that it is already using contemporary data to influence activity,” said Karen Zumach, director of community forestry at the Tree Trust.

Homeowners Matthew Vick, left, and David Dorava of St. Louis Park have made the most of the city’s full-service tree planting program, which costs residents less than $35 per tree.

home cooling

David Dorava, a public school teacher, lives just north of Minnetonka Boulevard, in an area with the second-highest Met Council score on environmental justice concerns in St. Louis Park. Canopy cover in the Dorava neighborhood is about 28%, well below the council’s target of 45%.

Dorava and his partner, Matthew Vick, received three trees at a discount from the city’s planting program – bringing the number of trees on their small plot of land to 11.

“We both come from Minneapolis, where there are big, huge, beautiful canopy trees,” Dorava said. “We just wanted more shade and greenery.”

The couple worked to create a miniature urban forest of sorts, because the sun was heating up their property so much that it distorted a plastic section of their front door.

Dorava and Vick ended up placing the three new honey locust trees to shade the side yard and front lawn. Ultimately, the fast-growing canopy of at least one of the trees should extend over the sidewalk as well.

Vic and Dorava also talk to their neighbours, trying to encourage others to plant trees as well.

“It just helps people walk on the sidewalk and get some shade, instead of walking in the sweltering heat,” Durava said.

Their neighborhood, along Texas Boulevard, is not entirely devoid of greenery. But two houses, both divided into duplexes, stand out for the lack of trees in their front yards.

The lack of trees in rental properties opposite the home of David Dorava and Matthew Vick shows that landlords are less likely to take advantage of municipal tree planting programs.

Zumach said landlords are among the most difficult property owners to persuade to plant a new tree.

St. Louis Park does not have tree rules in many private homes. Commercial developments have specific rules to protect or replace trees, said Bahi, the city’s director of natural resources, but for residences, “people are free to do whatever they want with the trees on their property.”

Mayor Spano said elected officials have not discussed or enforced rules that would protect trees on single-family plots. “Our approach was cooperation, not legislation,” he said.

Others across the metro area are also following this approach.

Green Minneapolisis a non-profit organization that focuses on the city’s natural spaces, and aims to increase the area’s canopy by 30% by planting and preserving millions of trees. The work will be funded through the sale of carbon credits, which companies can purchase to offset their carbon footprint, and pandemic relief funding.

In August, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced the creation of a New Town Tree Coordinator position To expand tree planting on both private property and driveways in low-income neighborhoods. The anti-epidemic funds will target “green areas” on the north side and south side of Minneapolis, lower-income areas with fewer trees.

“Imagine a city employee coming to your door and asking if you want an extra tree and then coming down the whole building and doing the same thing,” Fry said.

In the end, it may be a lack of awareness of tree-planting programs that is holding some people back.

Greg Lawrence owns and rents one of the duplexes across from Vic and Durava in St. Louis Park. He recently invested a significant amount of time in renovating the exterior of the house. His wife painted the bricks a dark blue, and they installed large cedar shutters.

But even though the house is covered in sun most of the day, he said he had never thought of planting a tree there before.

“It’s so dry and hot out there that it makes perfect sense to plant a tree,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t even think about it.”

Lawrence said he has tried to pay attention to the properties he owns and make sure they are in good shape for the tenants and the neighborhood. But he focused more on the interior than his rentals, not what’s on the outside.

After hearing about the city’s program, he said, “I’ll call them, and we’ll get a tree there this fall.”


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