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The disparity in tree cover and ecosystem service values among redlining classes in the United States

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Landscape and Urban Planning


In the 1930's the Federal Home Loan Bank Board established a program to appraise real estate risk levels in several cities. Four classes indicating level of security for real estate investments were developed: A (green) – best, B (blue) – still desirable, C (yellow) – declining, and D (red) – hazardous. Recent studies have shown that heat island effects are greater, imperviousness is higher, and tree cover lower in areas that were formerly redlined (class D). This paper analyzed all redlined areas in U.S. cities and confirms that redlined areas (class D) have lower tree cover, greater impervious cover and lower forest ecosystem service values than other classes, with tree cover declining and impervious cover increasing as security risk class increased. Nationally, tree cover averaged 40.1 percent in class A and 20.8 percent in Class D; impervious cover averaged 30.6 in Class A and 53.0 percent in Class D. Loss of annual ecosystem services in riskier redlined areas (classes B-D) compared to the highest rated zone (class A) conservatively equates to $308 million nationally if classes B-D had the percent tree cover exhibited in Class A. At the city scale, these losses in foregone services can reach up to $100 million per year (New York, NY). As percent tree cover and percent tree cover stocking declines as percent impervious cover increases, differences in the physical impervious structure of the redlined areas at the time of designation influence tree cover differences. As redlined areas were often delimited in areas with higher population density and impervious cover, these areas tend have lower tree cover today. Even if stocking levels were increased to levels exhibited in Class A (57.8%) among all classes, tree cover would still decrease as class risk increases due to less available greenspace in lower graded classes. These patterns illustrate the importance of impervious cover on the distribution of ecosystem services and understanding the impacts of redlining practices. City policies could be directed to help offset these disparities by enhancing tree cover and reducing impervious cover in these underresourced areas.


Ecosystem services; Inequity; Redlining; Urban forestry; Urban tree cover


Nowak, David J.; Ellis, Alexis; Greenfield, Eric J. 2022. The disparity in tree cover and ecosystem service values among redlining classes in the United States. Landscape and Urban Planning. 221(3): 104370. 6 p.

Last updated on: April 19, 2022