Jobs & equity in the urban forest
A new report by Ecotrust and PolicyLink shows economic and social benefit of increasing equity in the growing green infrastructure industry.
By Jeremy Barnicle
Executive Director, Ecotrust
With 80 percent of the U.S. population currently living in urban areas, city governments all over the country are increasing their investments in green infrastructure — the street trees, rain gardens, bioswales, planters, green roofs, parkland, and restored open space — that improves residents’ health and quality of life, manages stormwater, and removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Despite these increased investments, the benefits of green infrastructure remain inequitably distributed. Low-income communities and communities of color tend to receive less than an equal share of green infrastructure investments, and as a result live in areas with fewer trees and parks, more paved surfaces, and lower air and water quality. In addition, these communities tend to suffer from higher rates of respiratory illness, lower rates of physical activity, and higher levels of stress and long-term unemployment.
Is it possible to remedy this green infrastructure gap while also creating much-needed employment in these communities?
To answer this question, Ecotrust embarked on an 18-month-long study, working in close partnership with national research and advocacy organization PolicyLink and Portland-based green community development organization Verde. The results of this inquiry are now available in the newly released report, Jobs and Equity in the Urban Forest. Co-authored by Ecotrust and PolicyLink with extensive input, review, and data assistance from Verde, the report documents a growing group of policies, workforce development programs, and social enterprises devoted to urban forestry and related green infrastructure, occurring in cities throughout the country from Portland to Philadelphia. In examining the economic, ecological, and social impacts of these efforts, the report identifies ways to scale up these programs so that they offer more opportunities, and benefit more people.