News / Toronto

Canopy of advantage: Study shows trees an indication of neighbourhood income

Toronto residential areas with more trees are likely to be more affluent.

The city's canopy coverage is at 27 per cent, and the goal is to achieve at least 40 per cent.

Torstar News Service

The city's canopy coverage is at 27 per cent, and the goal is to achieve at least 40 per cent.

There's more to your neighbourhood trees than just providing shade and fresh air.

According to the findings from a group of researchers at Ryerson University, neighbourhoods with higher urban tree cover tend to be more affluent and have higher residential property value.

The study, titled Canopy of Advantage: Who benefits most from city trees? was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

Lead researcher Christopher Greene said one of the study's objectives was to explore the aspect of environmental justice as it pertains to the distribution of canopy in an urban area like Toronto. If trees are beneficial in reducing stormwater runoff and fighting pollution, they should be evenly accessible to everyone. But they're not, he said.

"What came out of this study is that there is polarized canopy in the city," he said.

"It's a tale of the extremes. The really high values of canopy tend to tie quite tightly to the really high income levels. And areas with really low income levels tend to be tightly tied to really low canopy levels."

High-income residential neighbourhoods like Lawrence Park, Etobicoke along the Humber ravine, and Rosedale were found to have a higher level of tree canopy. Meanwhile, the study found the central area downtown and Chinatown towards the Junction to be low-income, low canopy places.

The reasons for this polarization can vary, Greene said. It can be attributed to the city's history of planning, but also to neighbourhood emergence and gentrification or decay, all of which can affect the conditions of existing trees.

Greene said while more canopy is important, the urban landscape is not necessarily always conducive to its success.

"Areas with higher income have larger lots and lawn spaces where it's easy to plant and grow a tree, but try doing that at Yonge and Eglinton right on the corner," he said, noting it takes more effort and more money to sustain canopy in urban areas.

"Toronto is already committed to growing its canopy, but they need to think about canopy equity and equal access," he added.

Access to more trees has been at the forefront of Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF), a community organization that runs a subsidized tree planting services for Toronto residents. The city's canopy coverage is at 27 per cent, and the goal is to achieve at least 40 per cent.

"We need more efforts to lower the cost of planting on private properties," said the group's program manager Melissa Williams.

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