“Trees are not just scenery. They’re critical infrastructure for the health and wealth and well-being of communities. Distributing the cooling shade of trees more equitably across our cities is an absolutely essential strategy. We like to say that hashtag tree equity equals hashtag health equity.”
— Jad Daley, President, American Forests
Cities are bustling cultural centers, each with unique food, history, music, people, architecture, and energy. Urban layouts themselves also tell stories that are key parts of the cultural experience.
Urban areas often lack green spaces entirely, or certain populations don’t have access to those that exist, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities. But before we dive into the challenges that stem from this phenomenon, it’s important to understand the history behind the issues. What got us here in the first place?
Around the world, governments manipulate zoning in ways that perpetuate racial and economic inequity. In the United States, beginning in the 1930s, the Federal Housing Authority created maps that separated communities along racial lines, a process known as redlining. To see a visual representation, check out this interactive map. Redlined communities were systematically denied government support, which left them vulnerable to industrial development and the pollution that came with it.
These communities were also excluded from access to green space. A limited number of trees is a major problem for the economic value, safety, and livability of a neighborhood. The lack of trees and green space creates a phenomenon known as urban heat islands, which places BIPOC communities at a higher risk of heat-related death. Redlining and urban heat islands are a major environmental justice and public health crises.
Planting trees may seem like a simple solution to urban inequity, but doing so goes hand-in-hand with gentrification, a process wherein wealthier people buy properties in lower-income areas and displace low-income residents. By adding parks to an area with little to no green space, real estate prices can rise, driving out low-income residents. How do we provide greenery for communities that need it without forcing them out of their homes? Creating a balance of greenery and affordability is a critical task in urban planning and an increasingly city-centric future.
But what can you do right now? Say “yes in my backyard!” This phrase has arisen recently in response to the NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) movement, which has gained traction within wealthy, greenery-rich, predominantly white communities to block affordable housing projects in their neighborhoods. NIMBYism has largely resulted in housing injustice and modern segregation, so it’s important to use our voices to combat this by calling on local officials to push for justice in city planning. Remember, you have power in your government! Don’t be afraid to attend a city council meeting and tell community leaders that you support affordable housing and equitable access to green space. \\
Your voice isn’t the only way for you to get involved! Consider volunteering with urban greening organizations like the P-Patch program in Seattle, a local community garden initiative where people can sign up for a plot of land and grow whatever they’d like. Recently, community gardens have become a central part of the movement to bring ecological justice to cities and residents who lack access to green space or the land needed to establish a garden. At the same time, community gardens like the Ron Finley Project address food justice by providing land for people to grow fruits and vegetables, increasing access to fresh foods.
The Right Green is another great organization that focuses on greening using native species. Founded in 2018 by youth activist Aadya Joshi, this organization was conceived after she had seen the enormous benefits of transforming an essential garbage dump into a flourishing green space full of native flora in her own community of Mumbai.
Other organizations like the Baltimore Tree Trust are working to end tree inequity by planting trees throughout redlined neighborhoods, and talking with residents to learn their ecological needs and how to effectively address them. Grassroots work is critical to the success of urban greening efforts, as the people living in tree-scarce neighborhoods are the ones who can best speak to what those neighborhoods actually need. City officials must be involved, as they have the bureaucratic power to allow projects to move forward, but the voices of residents are equally important in the discussion and work. Our partner, Nature’s Path, is committed to being an environmental steward and green business leader for the benefit of all communities and nature itself. Our partner, Going Green Media, visited some of the greenest cities and greenest buildings to share solutions being developed around the world. There are countless amazing organizations in the urban greening effort; are there any near you? See how you can make your town or city even a little more eco-friendly, green and equitable!
Incorporate plants into your life by having them growing inside or outside of your home. This is an easy first step, and adding greenery offers both physical and emotional health benefits.
Simply bringing more plants into your personal space — whether a dorm, apartment, house or office — adds life and literal fresh air (oxygen!) to any built urban environment.
Research one plant that could live in your climate. Discover at least three health benefits for your personal environment. Look into where you may be able to realistically find it. Yard sales, friends and family, and Facebook Marketplace yield free or low-cost gems, in addition to beloved local plant shops and organic nurseries!
Post or regram a photo of your dream plant with a caption that includes the above information. Be sure to tag @TurningGreenOrg, the account you regram (or ones that led you there!), #PGC2022 and some stellar plant hashtags for good measure!
Upload your reflection and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload.
Do you have sustainable buildings in your neighborhood? What sustainable solutions do you see in your city, state or country? Tell us about one innovative solution you discovered. What problem does it address and what are the benefits to the community? Create a visual story that identifies the problem and showcases a solution for a unique and inspiring example. Make it persuasive, so others will be encouraged to pursue sustainable alternatives.
Post this visual on Instagram with an informative caption to share with wider audiences! Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @GoingGreenMedia and #PGC2022.
Upload your visual story as a PDF document, as well as a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
Who makes vital decisions around tree cover, green spaces, and city planning? Local governments may greenlight projects and developments that affect residents, but residents are the drivers of this process, as with any change. We are the ones who need, use, and benefit from parks and green spaces, and our voices must be heard.
In this challenge, you will take on the role of city planner for a location of your choice.
Begin by watching Steve Whitman’s TED Talk on “Shifting the World from Grey to Green.” Use this map to locate a historically redlined neighborhood in a city where you feel a personal connection (i.e. where you’re from, go to school, have family, etc.). If you do not live in the United States, choose a city in your country that lacks green spaces and trees.
Research the current condition of the neighborhood through photos and Google Maps. Has it improved since being designated as a redlined neighborhood? What does it lack in terms of green space and tree cover? Examine the layout to determine where green space or trees would fit best and how you can most effectively incorporate more plant life into the community. Focus on utilizing species that are native to the region, as that will benefit local biodiversity and flora and fauna populations.
Craft a slideshow presentation (Google Slides, PowerPoint or Keynote) detailing a brief history of the neighborhood, the current conditions (temperatures, tree cover, etc.), comparisons to neighborhoods that were not redlined, and your plan for bringing more green space and plant life to the community. Make sure to include benefits of increasing tree cover for the residents, city, and property in order to “convince” the city to go through with your plan for the neighborhood.
Post it as a slider on Instagram with an informative caption to raise awareness about the issue. Tag @TurningGreenOrg and any relevant local government accounts, as well as #PGC2022. Challenge your friends to research and get involved too!
Bonus points are yours if you submit or email the presentation to a local representative or city government office AND get a personal response! Send us a copy of that communication to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 28.
Upload your presentation as a PDF document (simply save the slideshow in that format before uploading) and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.