Income inequality, as seen from space

Last week, I wrote about how urban trees—or the lack thereof—can reveal income inequality. After writing that article, I was curious, could I actually see income inequality from space? It turned out to be easier than I expected.

Below are satellite images from Google Earth that show two neighborhoods from a selection of cities around the world. In case it isn’t obvious, the first image is the less well-off neighborhood, the second the wealthier one.

Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha

Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

Zona Sul

Zona Sul, Rio de Janeiro

Oakland

West Oakland

West Oakland

Piedmont

Piedmont, California (enclave of Oakland)

Houston

Fourth Ward

Fourth Ward, Houston

River Oaks

River Oaks, Houston

Chicago

Woodlawn

Hyde Park

Hyde Park, Chicago

Beijing

Fengtai

Fengtai, Beijing

Chaoyang

Chaoyang, Beijing

Boston metro area, Massachusetts

Ball Square, Somerville

Somerville, Massachusetts

West Cambridge

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Your examples

Do you have other cities or neighborhoods in mind? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email with photos or link to your blog post. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll put together a follow up article that features your examples.

Be sure to include the names of the cities and neighborhoods you’re highlighting and if you’d like me to mention your name.

UPDATE

Your examples are now posted! The response to my call for examples has been unbelievable. I’ve received hundreds of messages. I have the first batch up, and as I have time, I’ll be adding many more. Keep ‘em coming.

Related posts:

Urban trees reveal income inequality

Income inequality in the Roman Empire

Ghosts of geography

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  1. This is very interesting. It’s easy to see and hard to fix, from a local government perspective. It illustrates systemic problems that would require serious commitment to address. I took a look at some place I have lived and it’s striking to see how the amount of tree canopy differs.

  2. I live in Oakland, so I checked out the satellite view of my neighborhood to see how it compared to the two screenshots above. There are some trees, but closer to West Oakland than Piedmont. Seems about right!

  3. Quick! Change the Houston comparison. Satellite images can be deceiving. What you are looking at in 4th Ward are 3 story town-homes that start around 200k. 4th Ward has continually gentrified since the late 90′s.

    Try anything in the southeast quadrant of the city, including 3rd ward, Sunnyside, Southpark, or South Union for a more valid comparison.

    Thanks!

    1. I thought about that, Glen, but decided to stick with the Fourth Ward. It may be gentrifying, but the history was definitely of lower income. It’ll take a while for trees to come back.

      1. So you are really just comparing old neighborhoods to newer, more suburban ones?

        I live in Hoboken NJ and it looks like your poor neighborhoods from space yet the median income is 100k+ In fact, the areas with the most trees are where the subsidized housing projects are and are in fact the least well off in the city. Same goes for the nicer neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

    2. I should also mention that these comparisons are relative—one is wealthier than the other. It doesn’t have to be that one is destitute. I think the trend is applicable across the income spectrum (provided you control for things like bioregion, etc.).

  4. The Miami neighborhoods of Silver Bluff/Coral Way and Coconut Grove are a good example, especially since they border one another.

    1. Oh indeed. It’s even more jarring when you’re standing at the dividing line; one side of a building dilapidated, the other, posh.

  5. This is absolutely true for Mumbai, India as well. The best tree cover is in the affluent areas. what an interesting blog you have posted here !

  6. Yeah, ok–my neighborhood is ‘less well off’. You know what? We are also more dense and more environmentally favorable because of that.

    Seriously. Why does increased density mean bad? That means we leave more room for you elitists and your organic gardens.

    You may bite me.

    1. Mary, I’m not sure where you’re getting my “elitist” stance. I happen to live in a neighborhood in Cambridge that looks a lot like your neighborhood in Somerville. If you read other articles I’ve written here, you’ll see I’m not opposed to density. Take a deep breath and reevaluate your comment.

      1. Then you probably know that even though Ball Square is less well off than Brattle Street (true, most places are), it isn’t exactly a poor area. It’s gentrified substantially in the past couple of decades. Heck, a new super-lux high-end apartment complex just opened their doors near Ball Square. Somerville takes great pride in its trees and promotes its “Tree City” designation. You could have easily found a better contrast in this area.

    1. That’s an issue with the images used to mosiac that map together, not anything to do with vegetation density in urban areas.

  7. Interesting article! I have a small correction to make about Somerville. Your first picture is more centered on Ball Square (the X intersection towards the top-center of the photo), which is full of Tufts students and a couple fabulous breakfast places that always have lines out the door on weekends.

    Powder House Square is a small wooded park, the very edge of which shows up as a group of trees in the top left corner of your photo. Here’s a map centered on PHS: http://goo.gl/maps/IqLD

  8. This article and those who contributed to it are part of the problem. People with trees are not GIVEN their yards or neighborhoods. They work for those things and prioritize to keep the value of their property up. I am not rich but I keep what trees I can. They are expensive to remove! I am driving a 10 year old car and plan to keep it as long as possible so I can afford other things. Priorities. My parents basically live in the woods with lots of trees. Neither are college graduates. My dad worked in a chemical plant for about 40 years and my mom waited tables before landing an office job. They gave up everything for us. This type of reporting is misleading and divisive.

    1. I’m happy you value your trees, j stoute, but see the original research in the post linked above. It reports a general trend. There will always be exceptions, and you sound like one of those.

  9. As a student studying international development, I found this article very interesting. I looked up the town I’m currently staying in, Plettenberg Bay in South Africa, and was not at surprised by what I found.

    These are million dollar homes framing Robberg beach:
    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=plettenberg+bay+south+africa&hl=en&ll=-34.064437,23.375366&spn=0.006035,0.010536&sll=19.01019,-71.037598&sspn=7.048727,10.788574&t=k&hnear=Plettenberg+Bay,+South+Cape+DC,+Western+Cape,+South+Africa&z=17

    And this is the Qolweni township, located just on the outskirts of town:
    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=plettenberg+bay+south+africa&hl=en&ll=-34.050499,23.351054&spn=0.003018,0.005268&sll=19.01019,-71.037598&sspn=7.048727,10.788574&t=k&hnear=Plettenberg+Bay,+South+Cape+DC,+Western+Cape,+South+Africa&z=18

    Interestingly, the government funded housing in the New Horizons community (beside Qolweni) is slightly more well off:
    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=plettenberg+bay+south+africa&hl=en&ll=-34.052411,23.344048&spn=0.003018,0.005268&sll=19.01019,-71.037598&sspn=7.048727,10.788574&t=k&hnear=Plettenberg+Bay,+South+Cape+DC,+Western+Cape,+South+Africa&z=18

    I’m looking forward to seeing a follow-up post!

  10. Hi Tim,

    I am a grad student working up a GIS social-ecological model for urban forestry and how it mitigates urban runoff. I never thought to regress canopy cover to socio-economic factors, or maybe it should be the other way round. Excellent correlation and many interesting why questions!

    1. Many parts of South Philly are really up and coming. For a more extreme comparison, try Chestnut Hill and Elmwood/Southwest Philly.

  11. Where it says Rochinha should be Rocinha, please amend your caption (amazing how difficult it is to get non-English names right).
    Finally, comparing illegal settlements where thousands of migrants live in self-built homes with well-off planed neighborhoods seems a very lazy way to make your point.

  12. This should speak a little in Google Maps.

    Turn off the lables, for a more graphic and real effect.

    Thank you for bringing up this topic.

    12.987539,77.564281

  13. Trees aside, in certain areas here in Glasgow the housing stock and its immediate environment can obscure rather than indicate inequality (i.e. some of the poorest areas are comprised of sandstone tenements – as are some of wealthier areas, with areas like Govanhill and Queen’s Park just streets apart and no immediately confronting differences visible from property alone – but massive socioeconomic disparity). But back to the trees:

    Calton, Glasgow (where the male life expectancy is 54): https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=Glasgow+G40&hl=en&ll=55.845591,-4.219351&spn=0.0113,0.038581&sll=55.910758,-4.376163&sspn=0.011281,0.038581&oq=g40&t=k&hnear=Glasgow+G40,+United+Kingdom&z=15

    Anniesland, Glasgow (male life expectancy of 70): https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=anniesland+glasgow&hl=en&ll=55.889489,-4.345436&spn=0.011287,0.038581&sll=55.845591,-4.219351&sspn=0.0113,0.038581&t=k&hnear=Anniesland,+Glasgow+City,+United+Kingdom&z=15

  14. Tim – I like your approach to gathering this kind of data for an Integral City Vital Signs Monitor. Perhaps the spectrum of interpretations from commenters indicates the need for a Community of Research Practise around this methodology? The Integral City Meshworks Community of Practise be interested in exploring this.

  15. Pretty interesting! Though in some cases I suspect this reflects the age of the neighborhood as well. If you look at new, very wealthy suburbs you won’t see any trees either.

    1. True, what Nick Aster said. Even before I got to his comment, I was thinking about degradation and impoverishment over time. In the Mumbai suburb that I lived in, there are buildings and roads where trees and mangrove swamps used to be in my childhood (and I’m in my 40s, not a hundred years old :) ). If you could compare a satellite pic of Mumbai in 1962 and 2012, the new Mumbai’s environment is highly degraded. One of the reasons I moved out, actually.

      BTW a form of degradation that does not show up in satellite images is noise. Awaaz Foundation has been mapping noise levels in Mumbai. Tough job! :)

  16. No additions – but thanks for the visual additions to our upcoming economics unit!

    Janet | expateducator.com

  17. Although these images may represent income inequality, they are more a comparison of densities. Making room for multi-family housing typically includes tree removal. Those “well-off” neighborhoods could very well be the result of multi-family nimbyism. The score: Trees-1, Affordable Housing-0.

  18. Beautiful work! Have you found any data as to what happens when trees are planted? Does the neighborhood push out those at the bottom and attract wealthy families? Does it become more of a mixed income neighborhood? Do we know the population density of the comparative neighborhoods shown above?

  19. This a great theory, but still there are places that don’t fit. I live in Moema, Sao Paulo – Brazil. This a very high class neighborhood, but it lacks a lot of trees, this also applies to big cities, like Manhattan – New York and Shibuya Tokyo. I think you theory holds up true for the urban sprawl, but hard to apply to downtown.

  20. You ask, “Could I actually see income inequality from space?”

    Did you actually answer that question? What I mean is, did you look at various images like this, select which you thought was wealthier, and then look up the income data afterwards? Or did you pick up the neighborhoods first and then found their satellite images?

    As a followon to the Houston 4th Ward comments: How will the trend to more dense urban development skew the tree cover of wealthy vs poor neighborhoods?

  21. Interesting – note the wealthy part of Beijing is pretty much only as tree-covered as the poor part of Chicago! Presumably this is because of the relative poverty of China to America? Or does climate have a bearing?

  22. I have been noticing this and talking about it for years…Don’t have any pics at the moment, but In the Boston area, other notable examples of poor neighborhoods with little greenery include East Boston, Chelsea, parts of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, Lynn, Salem….probably more.

  23. It would be interesting to compare neighborhoods in Sacramento. For years now SMUD, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, has been willing to give ten trees to any one who asked for one. So income could would not be the entire criteria…But sheer laziness and lack of iterest miht might be. Water is not metered for the most part in Sac.

    1. Laziness? More likely it has more to do with the fact that a high percentage of properties in the less affluent urban neighborhoods are rentals. Renters cannot plant trees on properties they do not own, and landlords could care less about enhancing quality of life by planting trees… even free ones.

  24. Fascinating, though, last I heard, Somerville real estate was pretty steep. I think the Detroit Metro Area might make an interesting addition to this project. Compare one of the affluent suburbs (Bloomfield Hills or Grosse Pointe) with one of “downriver” communities (Ecorse, East Pointe, Wyandotte).

    Nashville, Tennessee might also make an interesting comparison, given the lush surroundings of the affluent West Meade and Belle Meade neighborhoods.

  25. In Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), it varies. There are lower income neighborhoods with no trees (Kensington) and ones with flourishing trees in vacant lots (Belmont-Mantua). There are affluent neighborhoods with greenery (University City) and ones where property is too expensive for many trees (Rittenhouse, Gayborhood, Society Hill).

    I think your examples work by means of careful selection of your samples.

  26. One of the most drastic cases I have seen is Atherton, CA which shares a border with much poorer Fair Oaks and Redwood City and slightly-less wealthy Menlo Park. One doesn’t need to know where the exact town lines are because you can tell from the Trees! There is a slight bleed-over outside of the official town lines but as you can imagine, those houses are worth a lot more than others in the same neighborhood. Here’s a link on google maps that shows the town lines. Toggle between the satellite images to visualize my point: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Atherton,+CA&hl=en&ll=37.452512,-122.202301&spn=0.052125,0.096302&hnear=Atherton,+San+Mateo,+California&gl=us&t=m&z=14

  27. Interesting post, raised some questions for me. I wonder if density/value has to reach a certain level before this effect starts to show. I live in Jackson Mississippi, a city with definite income diversity between neighborhoods. Looking at different areas of the city, the more and less affluent regions appear to have approximately the same degree of cover;

    Compare Eastover http://goo.gl/maps/feHa an affluent, although area;

    with a random part of south Jackson, http://goo.gl/maps/ONAC definitely not.

    I wonder if the impact isn’t absolute income levels of the neighborhoods, but spread between them? Suburban neighborhoods, many of which are completely treeless http://goo.gl/maps/Q9MQ complicate the picture further.

    Interesting discussion, thanks.

  28. As an economics major I find the premise a little biased – you start with the presumption that trees => wealth and don’t appear to consider whether or not wealth => trees. The more liberal blogs carrying this (like Grist) jump to the conclusion that this is an example of the “rich” being “given” yet another thing to make them rich.

    But we need to ask: “Is this a case where those with time and money are simply able to put that time and money into the trees that those without cannot?”

    That brings us back to the chicken and egg: do the trees make the wealthy, or do the wealthy plant the trees?

    I would presume the latter. I’m middle of the road but I live in a neighborhood where we value trees, gardens, and beautiful yards. They weren’t given to us, and they didn’t just spring up out of the ground, we spend hundreds of dollars every year MAKING our yards that way.

    The next question I would ask is whether or not this trend follows in rural areas. I’ll bet it is the reverse. Those with money can remove trees, those without let them be.

    At best this research can point to a visual cue that indicates the presence of higher incomes in an urban environment. But that is about it. It certainly didn’t cause the higher incomes.

  29. Ball square in somerville isn’t a poor neighborhood, it’s pretty professional and middle class, programmers and professors with a few grad students thrown in.

    It is certainly less well off than the area of West Cambridge pictured, but there’s a number of choices from an income perspective that are far worse off, East Somerville or North Cambridge even, or maybe an actually rough neighborhood like Dorchester, Roxbury, East Boston, Chelsea the list goes on.

    Why Ball Square?

  30. Fabulous stuff. Similarly, through the planting of 2+ million trees in a community in Yatta District, Kenya… Mully Children’s Family has changed the climate. Watch their video at http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=7ABUBrCfzBo
    A very wonderful transformation has taken place and is becoming a model for change in Africa.

  31. Notice also the street layout — poorer regions tend toward more grid layouts, to use more square footage. Richer regions can afford the ‘wasted space’ created by curving roads.

    1. You are right, with the exception of the Brazil photos. The poorer area is the one with the curving roads. Probably that sort of reversed trend is more prevalent in less industrialized countries, but it still exists.

      1. My understanding is that the non-grid layout of favelas is due to history and topography: they started as unplanned, unzoned shantytowns that climbed up the hills of Rio. The “nice” parts of Rio are the planned, zoned areas in the flats.

  32. Bizarrely in London, the desirable properties tend Victorian and Georgian terrace houses, which have a far higher population density compared to later built semi detached houses, which are often worth much less.

  33. I wouldn’t call Ball Square a lower income area of Somerville. It’s become gentrified and is almost as pricey as Davis Square (the hip part of Somerville). East Somerville around Sullivan Square is generally lower income, higher crime, and it’s kind of tree-laden. https://maps.google.com/?ll=42.385794,-71.083699&spn=0.003867,0.007746&t=h&z=17

    Somerville’s pretty big on the “tree city” concept. http://www.somervillema.gov/departments/ospcd/parks-and-open-space/street-trees

  34. I wonder if this is just an example of selection bias? I’m not sure, but just picking two areas that you know and comparing them is one thing – try looking at a city you don’t know and identifying the low / high value areas.

    I’m sure it’ll still hold true, but it would make a more convincing point.

  35. Are these images all the same scale? I imagine it could be more difficult to compare an image showing half a square mile versus ten square miles, for example.

  36. While I agree that these photos show a stark difference and perhaps connection between level of forestation and income, the reasons for these differences are much more complex than simple economics. For instance, police in some cities are notorious for preventing the planting of trees in some communities because they say trees obstruct their views, and residents wealthy and not don’t like trees on their properties for a myriad of reasons.

  37. I first noticed this effect looking at MLS.ca maps of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ask for real estate values in a high range, and you get listings mostly in treed areas; ask for real estate values in a low range, and you get listings in tree-bare areas.

    Growing a tree is a decades-long process; cutting it down takes minutes. A strong, stable political force is needed to preserve and protect something that vulnerable. Rich neighbourhoods provide that; poor neighbourhoods don’t. That’s my half-baked theory, anyway.

  38. Fascinating. But the Beijing example is a bit misleading. The “well-off” neighborhood you feature is actually the embassy district, which is not representative of most of the city. The buildings in that image are almost all embassies, with trees around them presumably both at the request of each country and for security.

  39. Fascinating, as a fan of treed neighborhoods, which define livability for me. But I can think of affluent areas of San Francisco that are lacking in trees- the Marina and much of the Land’s End area come to mind. In contrast, downtown Sacramento is (or was) well-treed, yet affordable. But perhaps those are exceptions, as the basic issue of lot size affects whether there is even room for trees.

  40. This doesn’t always work. In many cities, it’s just a matter of the older neighborhoods having large trees while the new suburbs carved out of farmland have only freshly planted sticks. Sometimes the old neighborhoods are rich and sometimes they’re poor. The suburbs are almost uniformly middle-class and above.

  41. Interesting, used to live on the border of Oakland and Piedmont. I lived in a 50 unit apartment building and the place next to us was all one house.

  42. While I definitely think this has merit, at least from my own anecdotal experience, I would love to see some more data. The previous post is more compelling in my opinion b/c of the stats.

    Also, just an FYI – Piedmont is not in Oakland. It is a separate city, albeit completely surrounded by Oakland. If you took a screenshot of the wealthier areas of Oakland you’d probably see similar results.

  43. I appreciate the thoughtfulness that is evident in the majority of the comments here, it’s wonderful to hear/see. I have an additional consideration to add in the reasoning behind the comparisons: in my experience, in various cities/towns across the greater southwest US, neighborhood to neighborhood, property surveys favor riverfront property; those with more disposable income tend to live closer to rivers, which of course tend to favor the growth of trees.

  44. I don’t have the article at hand, but I recall hearing about a study that asked U.S. residents about their attitudes toward urban vegetation. If I recall correctly, upper- and middle-income people viewed it positively, while lower-income people saw trees and vegetation as “messy” and “unsafe”. So there might be cultural factors at play here as well.

    If you want I can try to dig up the study.

      1. I’m not finding the specific paper, but it was part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. Here’s the project site: http://beslter.org/frame4-page_3d.html .

        Look for papers by Morgan Grove and Bill Burch in the publications section. There’s a lot of interesting research there — some open-access, but some of the promising stuff is paywalled.

        Also possibly relevant to the topic: They found that property values increase with park proximity in low-crime areas, but decrease with park proximity in high-crime areas: http://beslter.org/frame4-page_3d_15.html

  45. this is great. except ball square in somerville ma is not exactly a low income area, at all. i mean at all. west cambridge and ball square are like the same neighborhood in my mind. that comparison doesn’t make any sense.

    i mean i get it the neighborhoods are slightly different on the economic scale, but when i go to ball sq one of my thoughts is usually “wow look at all these amazing trees they have here this place is great”. literally one of the things i tell people who live in ball square is that they really have some nice trees.

    the portion of west cambridge you posted certainly isn’t of the entire region of known as west cambridge; it’s just the one fancy area that has back yards, which of course has a lot of trees. ball sq is the kind of neighborhood that is densely populated, but was probably one of those urban sprawl developments in the boston area in the 1920s that was built up sort of in a luxury urban living sort of way, not in a low income housing sort of urban planning way.

    haha i don’t know. sorry to rant on about this. i get it, one is more well off than the other, but ball square is still a beautiful tree laden area that, while not being west cambridge, doesn’t really seem like that huge of a contrast to me.

    i will have to submit my own comparison at some point!

  46. Very interesting article. I checked my home town, Essen, at once. It has a coal mining and steel background. Of course, nowadays there is no coal mine left. If you look at Essen in Google maps, you will not find the differences you describe. The closer you get to the river Ruhr in the south, the more trees and woodland you will find. But in other city areas, income variations do not seem to correlate with the number of trees. A quick check of other German cities show some centres with quite few trees, but that changes rapidly once you move to more peripheral areas. I’d still agree that places where rich people live are usually nicer than places where people with a lower income live, but you will find a lot of tress even in poorer areas all over Germany.

  47. Ball Square may not be West Cambridge but it’s a pretty nice area with yuppie cafes and a diner. I would use Dorchester or Roxbury for contrast instead.

  48. So what would happen if the inhabitants of each income-unequal neighborhood switched homes with those in the more affluent neighborhoods in the same city?

    Would the neighborhoods look the same in ten years?

    Unless, of course, the swappers also swap their pay checks, whatever their source.

    Pretending that this is a “problem” that can be fixed because income equality might be the problem, with the “right” or “left” political agenda is rank nonsense that pretends that man can overcome the forces of nature.

    Do the people with more trees get more oxygen, and enjoy less CO2? At the expense of those with fewer trees?

    In many parts of the world, trees are cut down for fuel. But that hardly has anything to do with income inequality today. Almost every old city in the entire world always has and always will have different neighborhoods as long as they have populations.

  49. This is sort of obvious in a country like India where income inequality is very obvious and urban slums are everywhere… you’ll see that only high income neighborhoods have trees, open spaces, parks etc. while the low income groups are just a mass of small houses.

    1. Hunts Point vs. Riverdale would work, but the pattern is reversed in Manhattan. Upper east side is barren and east Harlem looks like a jungle (even if you are not looking at the projects).

  50. This premise is really interesting! One thing to keep in mind is that urban land goes for a premium, and only the rich can afford extra land for green space. That will always be a factor, but of course it’s less so in depressed American cities.

  51. This states the obvious, but thanks for posting it. There’s more room for trees when the houses have space between them. A couple of years ago in San Francisco there was a vote related to city trees and whether we wanted to become stingy enough to cease watering and maintaining them.

  52. What would be interesting is randomly selected images from urban areas. Then correlate with economic indicator.

    If areas were not selected randomly I don’t know how you really can know what you’re looking at.

    Some old run down neighborhoods have trees, and some shiney new mcmansion developments have few visible trees

    1. Colin, check The previous article I linked to at the top of this page. It covers a peer-reviewed article that surveyed 210 cities in the US over 100,000 people. The images here are just samples.

  53. That’s really very interesting. Checking some German cities that I have been to, I have to say it is not as noticeable. I think this might be because many cities are quite old, and German cities have had some rather large areas cleared during the war. And even in the most poor neigbourhoods around here, there are usually trees – this is due to the buildings that people live in are usually large apartment blocks in an area with several apartment blocks of identical construction. But between those buildings, there’s always trees and lawns with some playground, location for trashcans and some place to hang your laundry (note at the side: Here in Germany it is not considered a sign of poverty to hang your laundry to dry. You will spot people hanging their laundry even in well-off neibourhoods, despite there being a dryer in nearly every household. It is just something that is nothing unusual. So if you see apartment buildings with structures for hanging laundry, that doesn’t automatically mean the people are poor. Because even in apartment blocks, pretty much well-off people live. It really depends on the area.).

    I can’t think of one neigbourhood of any kind without even a few trees.

    The exception, if anything, is *REALLY* old cities and parts of cities. In my town, which is rather small, the only area without any noticeable tree cover is the old part that is full with old buildings from the medieval period. The only green you will see is overhanging from some gardens behind man-high walls. This is how people built in the middle ages. Still, it’s a pretty neigbourhood. The slightly worse neigbourhood that is not far from the old city *does* have several pretty tall trees. The worst offender of lack of greenery is a high rise. And that’s as bad as it gets here.

    Anyway, like I said, medieval city parts are the most tree free areas that I can imagine. People built their houses closely together (a friend of mine’s house is built in such a way that the neighbour’s daughter who was also a friend of her would climb through one of their own windows to end up directly in the courtyard of the first mentioned friend. The window is well hidden, tiny, and easy to spot if you don’t know it is ther. But is is there.) back then, and that is how they remained.
    The only trees in cities parts that old are located at public spaces like the space in front of the church, the city hall or maybe the graveyard (though those are mostly out of town). But those neigbourhoods are not poor ones. They are usually middle class lodgings, that are actually very quaint due to their unique nature.

    So yeah, while there is obviously difference, even in German cities, I don’t think it is as severe in most of them. Of course, there are likely some tiny differences. But really, I can’t remember being in any city or town without a proper amount of trees.

    Which is quite ironic if you think about the fact that Germany has the highest population of any EU state(not sure about General European Continent), despite not even being the largest going by land area.

  54. Your blog is deceiving in trying to paint a picture (make a point)about urban tree areas representing rich and poor. You can’t compare downtown tree areas with suburbs. That’s not apples to apples. In any downtown area, full of large buildings you will have less trees per square inch than in a suburb with only small houses in comparison. So, to be fair, informative and thus to the point, make comparisons between two suburbs within the same city and as close to each other as possible so the terrain, and unique weather is the same for both areas, and not a variable. Still, your point that rich people can afford to water their tress and lawns more and better than poor people, well, duh!, that makes sense. I mean, why not make a point in determining rich and poor by looking at the cars they drive, the clothes they were, and where their children go to college? There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is a gap between rich and poor anywhere in the world; this isn’t news. The extreme degree to which this gap can reach is also no news; everyone knows an extreme gap can and does exist if you cherry pick a poor neighborhood and set it against a rich neighborhood. It may be interesting and news if instead you were to note cities or countries in which they boast there is a very small gap between their rich and poor people, and of course this is only in general (again, because even in a city with a a high degree of equanimity you can always find an unusual larger inequality if you cherry pick the areas, extreme small poor areas against extreme small rich areas; this is not fair as comparison- sample a common poor area against a common rich area).

  55. This is interesting, but I think it does fall apart in the Boston example (or rather, it is just as easy to disprove rather than prove the theory). I compared my working class neighborhood in the Ashmont section of Dorchester to Beacon Hill, which is certainly the wealthiest neighborhood in Boston Proper. The Dot is greener for sure. The same held true Mattapan, Roxbury, and the Blue Hill Ave areas of Dorchester, which are probably one rung down from Ashmont on the economic ladder.

    Possibly this is because Dorchester and Mattapan are ex-farming grounds and Beacon Hill has always been tony and elite.

    Of course, you could choose parts of Brookline and compare them to sections of East Boston, say, and the theory would be proven, but it’s not exactly telling the whole story.

    Anyway, it’s fascinating any way you slice it.

  56. I bought my house in 1999 in the heavily polluted SW area of Detroit and worked with other residents to oppose wanton disregard of the health of residents around trucking, rail, and factories.

    I advocated for trees on the freeway to contain pollution, dust and noise. We were told that trees do not help the air quality that much, and salt spray from snow removal would kill the trees eventually. Yet the suburbs continued to get State and Federal monies to landscape their freeways with deciduous and evergreen trees.

    I planted trees around my house.

    I advocated for geothermal HVAC 1998 for a new public elementary school in my neighborhood because it allowed for cleaner and more efficient indoor air quality. An architect told me off microphone that governments(and individuals)are unwilling to pay extra even though it saves money in the future. He’s correct about individuals not affording geothermal because I wanted it in my house and could not afford the higher cost. So I installed a 97% efficient furnace with an 18 SEER air conditioner, thermal windows, a new light color roof, and light color exterior paint with ceramic insulating beads added.

    I planted deciduous trees to shade my house during the heat of the summer.

    I advocated with the trucking company across the street to stop diesel trucks from non-stop idling because the wind was from the northeast during most of the year and caused many households to breathe exhaust. I advocated to keep the trees and shrubs that had grown along their fence, providing a dust and noise buffer for the houses across the street. Corporate voices said that they would move their company and take jobs with them if dissent increased. Dissent increased, they moved away, another company moved in with less direct diesel exhaust but still heavy noise and dust pollution.

    I planted trees around my house.

    I advocated that residents report the crime of malicious destruction of property whenever graffiti was painted on their garage or fence. One complaint per month (mine) is insignificant; 1000 complaints a month defines a problem that cannot be easily ignored. Urban despair stopped their voices.

    I planted clinging ivy along my privacy fence.

    I advocated for increased trees (and other traffic calming methods) because trees planted close to traffic cause drivers to slow down. It also benefits pedestrians and parked cars with shade. It was deemed unworkable and especially problematic to fire and police. The suburbs could not plant enough trees, bushes, and flowers along their commercial areas.

    I planted trees between my sidewalk and the street and noticed how drivers turning at the corner near my house will slow down past my trees and quickly speed away down the barren street after they pass my trees.

    When I do sell my house all of my shade and fruit trees will be cut down.

    New residents come from the southwest noses filled with dust from sun-baked parched cities to the urban setting of Detroit, and immediately within the year cut all the trees down on their property and even city trees if they can get away with it which they usually do.

    Their yards become parched and sun-baked no longer enjoyable for living.

    There are things that can be done to ones personal space that improve the aggregate environment. I hope that my house is a model. There are still people who look at my trees and say — “All those leaves to rake!”. But they still enjoy parking their cars under the shade of my trees.

  57. I’d like to see the juxtaposition between Birmingham or Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and poorer communities like parts of Detroit, parts of Hazel Park, etc.

  58. FYI, the Fourth Ward in Houston is very gentrified these days. I suspect that there are more trees now than there used to. Check out the lack of trees in the Third Ward compared to River Oaks for a better example. Cool article!

  59. Fabulous work!
    WHen you get to the next round of images, I’d like to feature your work in an ODT maps newsletter. Please email me or call my cell 413-835-1062. I’m going to forward your work to Danny Dorling, Denis Wood and the Social and Spatial Inequalities (SASI), at the Department of Geography in Sheffield UK — http://www.sasi.group.shef.ac.uk

  60. Reading PA, they are one of the poorest downtown areas in the country, just cutting more teacher jobs recently.

  61. I was born, raised and lived in Chicago, IL. in the Inner City (Westside, Southside)Worked Downtown and the Northside.

    I worked as a Tenant organizer and then property manager for Kenwood Oakland Community Organization next door to Hyde Park in the 80′s. Watched the system at work all those years. A many tentacled system that is slow to change and as someone said, “Easy to see and hard to fix.” They do require serious and long term commitment. You easily burn out.

    One thing I stubbornly believe is that all people deserve to breath Oxygen which means tree Density, grass and garden areas regardless of race and income levels.

    Communities have to take this upon themselves to change it. Help from urban designers, garden designers and other professionals is needed to work with communities to educate, plan and implement. That is happening in some places. But a long term issue is under-rating the complexity of maintaining it over time, once it has been implemented.

    Too many of us in urban areas take for granted the soil under the concrete and pavement we walk on. Ignore the natural world around us while at the same time,gravitating to and enjoying the benefits of gardens, parks and tree lined streets.

    Your research is profound. Appreciate your efforts.

  62. dear colleague as a Brazilian I am ashamed to see certain images circulating the world denigrating many, many people worldwide think Brazil is just made of slums over the truth is that we have many beautiful cities in the U.S. standards and various parts of the country full of nature, know of our problems and unfortunately the greater the corruption and weak law every Brazilian knows the potential of our country and if not for the corrupt government surely would have better development indices, but our pova has no courage to fight for rights as other nations.
    love and hate this land
    hug!

  63. You would have a stronger case if your photo areas depicted equal areas. In every instance you chose a closer view of the wooded streets, and a longer shot of the urban settings.

    1. Actually, they were all taken on equal scales. Eye height was the same for all (it’s not a perfect measure, but it’s the best you can get in Google Earth, and not too far off from equal scales).

      1. Your theory is interesting and it seems to be true. What I notice in reading the comments is that people in the poorer areas resent being called that and think of themselves as “temporarily displaced millionaires”. They can’t handle the truth. That also explains how so many middle-class Americans can vote Republican.

  64. Try East New York, Brooklyn vs. Park Slope, Brooklyn.
    Or the East Side of Buffalo, NY vs. either Richmond Avenue, Buffalo or Kenmore, NY (a neighboring Buffalo suburb)

  65. this is an interesting comparison, though i wouldn’t put much correlation on the relationship between household income and urban greenery. in the first place, the time it takes for trees to grow is a lot longer than the time it takes for a neighborhood’s wealth to change. in the second place, there are housing options with & without trees for high and low income sectors of any urban area. high income, no trees is like a condo. low income, no trees is like the projects. low income, with trees may be harder to find, but does a consumer really think, “I want somewhere GREEN” ? It seems more like an economic question of affordability than an urban planning question of green spaces.

    1. The income inequality in new jersey has been the most stunning in all of my travels.

      Zoom out and see Short Hills vs. Newark. You can follow the avenues leading out of Newark where all of the suburbs are /extremely/ wealthy, and Newark is disgustingly poor.

  66. Here is an example of Mumbai, India: http://goo.gl/maps/l3Gl0

    The two places are in the same area: Colaba. The southern/western part of Colaba is one of the most expensive places in India (or even the world) to live in. The slum in the northern part are the houses of the maids, house cleaners who work for the rich.

  67. Chicago comparison is perfect, because Hyde Park and Woodlawn are two South Side neighborhoods only about 3/4 mile from each other.

  68. Wow, I’ve heard of this concept but never thought it would apply to Sydney as most areas are fairly occupied with trees regardless of which suburb is considered affluent or impoverished and thought that it would only apply to most American cities as the impoverished and “ghetto” areas are located in the inner city regions which are generally most structurally established than the suburbs but upon closer inspection of Sydney, areas that heavily rely on welfare payments such as Mount Druitt and Blacktown clearly have less trees than areas such as Parramatta which is a wealthier area and in addition to that, Blacktown is only located 10km from Parramatta. Both suburbs are located at least 20km from Sydney CBD hence neither of them would be considered inner city areas. I avoided using example near Sydney CBD as some may claim that the water and air near that region will aid the growth of trees.

  69. The one of Chicago´s south side is deceiving for the majority of the Hyde Park photo is of the University of Chicago (established over a 100 years ago) whereas Woodlawn is, for the most part, Hyde Park´s affluent, Northerly neighbor (how of Obama´s mansion among other mansions). You would perhaps find better luck finding aerial pics of inequality in the Oak Park/River Forest areas in comparison with their poorer surroundings.
    Love the hypothesis.

  70. How do you take into account the fact that you have no idea when these were taken? In areas like your MA examples, the time of year can drastically effect the appearance of the trees, causing them to have more or less leaves and skewing the results?

    1. I actually do know when they were taken. In Google Earth, where I found these images, you can see the exact date of the imagery. All were chosen to correspond with summer, or peak leaf-on, in their respective region. If the current image wasn’t taken in that time of year, I browsed their recent historical imagery to find one that was (all were from the past few years).

  71. It is evident and obvious that a reforestation of our living spaces is desperately needed. Civil society requires a natural setting. Global warming is the crises of our time. It will need every effort we can bring to bear.

  72. Income inequality, like all inequality, results from unequal effort, unequal wisdom, unequal vision, unequal imagination and unequal desire. You can’t have trees in your neighborhood, unless you desire trees, imagine trees, have the wisdom to see the benefit of trees and put in the effort to plant trees.

    On French islands in the Carribean, even the poorest inhabitants paint their poor shacks in wonderful, lively and cheery colors making the whole place beautiful and quaint. In other places, the “poor” are satisfied to wallow in squalor.

  73. Weimin Li (now professor at Cal Poly Pomona) wrote her dissertation at UC Berkeley on a similar topic. She used analytical methods to quantify. Interesting study using big data.

    Understand the social impact of green—evaluation of the impacts of urban vegetation on neighborhood crime

    Weimin Li – 2008

    See here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ZvdDH3gNYqIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Understand+the+social+impact+of+green—evaluation+of+the+impacts+of+urban+vegetation+on+neighborhood&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gHSQUb64HMOGjAKAl4CIBA&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA