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The tree cover and temperature disparity in US urbanized areas: Quantifying the association with income across 5,723 communities

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McDonald, Robert I; Biswas, Tanushree ; Sachar, Cedilla ; Housman, Ian ; Boucher, Timothy M.; Balk, Deborah ; Nowak, David ; Spotswood, Erica ; Stanley, Charlotte K.; Leyk, Stefan

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Urban tree cover provides benefits to human health and well-being, but previous studies suggest that tree cover is often inequitably distributed. Here, we use National Agriculture Imagery Program digital ortho photographs to survey the tree cover inequality for Census blocks in US large urbanized areas, home to 167 million people across 5,723 municipalities and other Census-designated places. We compared tree cover to summer land surface temperature, as measured using Landsat imagery. In 92% of the urbanized areas surveyed, low-income blocks have less tree cover than high-income blocks. On average, low-income blocks have 15.2% less tree cover and are 1.5˚C hotter than high-income blocks. The greatest difference between low- and high-income blocks was found in urbanized areas in the Northeast of the United States, where low-income blocks in some urbanized areas have 30% less tree cover and are 4.0˚C hotter. Even after controlling for population density and built-up intensity, the positive association between income and tree cover is significant, as is the positive association between proportion non-Hispanic white and tree cover. We estimate, after controlling for population density, that low-income blocks have 62 million fewer trees than high-income blocks, equal to a compensatory value of $56 billion ($1,349/person). An investment in tree planting and natural regeneration of $17.6 billion would be needed to close the tree cover disparity, benefitting 42 million people in low-income blocks.


Urban forests; tree cover; environmental equity


McDonald, Robert I.; Biswas, Tanushree; Sachar, Cedilla; Housman, Ian; Boucher, Timothy M.; Balk, Deborah; Nowak, David; Spotswood, Erica; Stanley, Charlotte K.; Leyk, Stefan. 2021. The tree cover and temperature disparity in US urbanized areas: Quantifying the association with income across 5,723 communities. PLOS ONE. 16(4): e0249715. 27 p.

Last updated on: May 27, 2021