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Author: Shahrzad Razi
Title: Los Angeles Urban Forest Initiative
Category: Health & wellness
Los Angeles Urban Forest Tree Initiative
undoing spatial disparitiesUrban forests are essential to maintain the health and vitality of city ecosystems. Trees not only clean and replenish air, but they significantly cool temperatures, produce food, and sustain habitats. As the earth’s climate is rapidly changing due to human activity, the importance of urban forests has never been so crucial. In Los Angeles, where dangerously high temperatures are expected to increase, trees are an exceptionally fundamental infrastructure in Los Angeles. The city’s unevenly distributed resources and sun-scorched environment illustrate that only certain segments of Los Angeles have access to urban forests. How did we get here? Capitalism's racialized and patriarchal structures led to redlining, exclusionary zoning, and blockbusting, producing a segregated city. Areas comprising racialized & lower socioeconomic populations are especially deprived of urban forests. That coupled with negligence and poor maintenance has created inequitable tree canopy coverage. Such spatial disparity reveals the city’s historical ambivalence to see urban forests as a civic resource. The Covid 19 Pandemic has also heightened this crisis by forcing some essential workers to toil in the sweltering heat. To be sure, the city, not-for-profit organizations, and concerned citizens have recognized Los Angeles’ urban forest discrepancy and are working to ensure that this essential resource is accessible to all Angelenos. For instance, the Mayor's Green New Deal developed the first-ever urban forest management plan, which includes planting 90,000 trees by the end of 2021 and increasing tree canopy in areas with the greatest need (by 50 %) by 2028. Despite these unprecedented efforts, social and political barriers hinder the city and its stakeholders’ urban forestry goals. For example, social norms prioritizing profit-making over life-making lead to situations where trees are poorly maintained, neglected, and removed. Siloed municipal departments have diverging goals and interests. Tree care subsidies for 90 percent of Los Angeles’ urban forests living on private property do not exist. Such forces collectively perpetuate inequitable access to nature. If things continue this way, the city will certainly not have the urban forest it needs. Architects and designers thus have the responsibility to see trees as an integral part of the urban landscape. Rather than viewing them in conflict with new buildings, architects must design around existing urban forests—to protect and preserve them. Doing so will help expand the city’s canopy coverage and ultimately lead to a healthier and more equitable metropolis.