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Residential housing segregation and urban tree canopy in 37 US Cities

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Locke, Dexter H.; Hall, Billy ; Grove, J. Morgan; Pickett, Steward T. A.; Ogden, Laura A.; Aoki, Carissa ; Boone, Christopher G.; O'Neil-Dunne, Jarlath P. M.

Year Published



npj Urban Sustainability


Redlining was a racially discriminatory housing policy established by the federal government's Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) during the 1930s. For decades, redlining limited access to homeownership and wealth creation among racial minorities, contributing to a host of adverse social outcomes, including high unemployment, poverty, and residential vacancy, that persist today. While the multigenerational socioeconomic impacts of redlining are increasingly understood, the impacts on urban environments and ecosystems remain unclear. To begin to address this gap, we investigated how the HOLC policy administered 80 years ago may relate to present-day tree canopy at the neighborhood level. Urban trees provide many ecosystem services, mitigate the urban heat island effect, and may improve quality of life in cities. In our prior research in Baltimore, MD, we discovered that redlining policy influenced the location and allocation of trees and parks. Our analysis of 37 metropolitan areas here shows that areas formerly graded D, which were mostly inhabited by racial and ethnic minorities, have on average ~23% tree canopy cover today. Areas formerly graded A, characterized by U.S.-born white populations living in newer housing stock, had nearly twice as much tree canopy (~43%). Results are consistent across small and large metropolitan regions. The ranking system used by Home Owners' Loan Corporation to assess loan risk in the 1930s parallels the rank order of average percent tree canopy cover today.


Land System Science; Transdisciplinary; Environmental Justice; Urban Ecology


Locke, Dexter H.; Hall, Billy; Grove, J. Morgan; Pickett, Steward T.A.; Ogden, Laura A.; Aoki, Carissa; Boone, Christopher G.; O'Neil-Dunne, Jarlath P.M. 2021. Residential housing segregation and urban tree canopy in 37 US Cities. npj Urban Sustainability. 1(1): 15. 9 p.

Last updated on: May 18, 2021