September 22, 2021
In The Public Interest
Credit: Americanforests.org

Trees Cool Neighborhoods and Improve Health

Jacksonville is among 20 large urban areas with the most to gain from planting trees, especially in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, according to American Forests. In launching its Tree Equity Score tool, American Forests identifies 20 cities with human populations of 500,000 that it claims can enjoy “significant health, economic and climate benefits” if these cities increase their urban tree canopy.

Jacksonville’s overall “tree equity score,” a measure of the number and density of trees by location, is 91, on a scale of 0 to 100. A high tree equity score indicates that “there are enough trees [per location] for everyone to experience the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide,” claims American Forests.

But neighborhood level data reveal great disparities in the location of Jacksonville’s tree canopy, with wealthier neighborhoods enjoying greater density and poorer neighborhoods lacking adequate shade cover. For example, Mandarin scores 100 while the area around UF Health Hospital scores 40.

IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Neighborhoods with adequate tree cover canopy are cooler and neighbors enjoy fewer heat-realted illnesses. “Trees lower air temperature by up to seven degrees during the day and 22 degrees at night,” claims American Forests. And a map of a city’s tree cover “is also a map of income,” states American Forests. Simply put, lower-income neighborhoods usually don’t have many trees.

In addition to measuring tree equity, American Forest’s interactive tool estimates a neighborhood’s tree canopy cover goal and its current progress toward that goal. In estimating this goal, American Forests uses “generalized natural biome baseline targets selected in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service,” and adjusts that target based on population density. According to the American Forests website, https://treeequityscore.org/map/#11/30.3126/-81.6399, Mandarin’s tree canopy cover goal of 60% has been reached while the Shands area goal of 48% measures a pathetic 17%. Mandarin ranks 1st among Jacksonville’s 462 block groups while the UH Health Hospital area ranks dead last.

Notably, historic downtown has a tree equity score of 59. With a canopy cover goal of 48%, downtown’s current canopy cover measures an inadequate 12%. No wonder preliminary data from multiple surveys asking Jaxsons what we want in downtown Jacksonville indicate that tree shade ranks high.

American Forests, a national nonprofit founded in 1875 to conserve forests, claims that creating a deliberate, comprehensive, county-wide “tree equity” program can create local jobs, reduce crime, mitigate climate change, save lives and prevent illness.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Share the tree equity tool with your city councilmember, ask if Jacksonville has a comprehensive tree canopy cover plan, and, if so, ask how we are doing implementing that plan.

Written by
Sherry Magill

Sherry Magill is a community leader and retired private foundation executive. She is a co-founder of Jaxlookout.

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Written by Sherry Magill

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