Equal Opportunity Streets: Assessing the Equity of Publicly Provisioned Street Trees in Walk Zones Surrounding Elementary Schools
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Given the previously established, social, economic, and healthful benefits of nearby nature in local environments, we argue that the provision of publicly funded street trees as a positive urban environmental exposure should be considered as an “environmental justice” issue. Accordingly, the study examines the distribution of street trees within a 10-minute walking radius around elementary schools in four communities of different sizes in Ontario, Canada, to assess potential levels of “exposure” to these positive natural features among school-age children of different sociodemographic backgrounds. A geographic information system incorporating detailed geodatabases of pubic trees and elementary schools in Stratford, Woodstock, Brantford, and London was used to analyze the spatial distribution of trees in relation to the socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhood walking zones around every elementary school. Our findings indicate that the spatial distribution of street trees in the immediate vicinity around the schools in the four southwestern Ontario cities studied closely mirrors the pattern of socioeconomic distress in those same cites. The findings point to a greater need for municipal planners, policymakers, and community-based organizations to carefully consider the socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods to ensure that future tree planting efforts are conducted in an equitable manner and targeted to the areas with the greatest need for the associated benefits they provide.