More trees, more wealth

tall buildings behind large park
alex mulhare

25th August 2021


Wealthy suburbs can be identified by the amount of tree coverage in the area. 


The School of Geography at University College Dublin published an extensive report in 2017 that verified this statement’s accuracy. This study found that in comparison to North American and European cities, Dublin falls into the category of cities with the lowest tree coverage at 10 per cent. 


Paris, France has a similar level of tree canopy coverage, with 10.8 per cent of the city shaded by greenery.


However, these figures are dwarfed by North American cities. 50-53 per cent of Atlanta, Georgia is shaded by tree coverage, along with 54.64 per cent of Sacramento, California. 


Although Dublin City recorded 10 per cent tree canopy coverage, there exists a disparity between the number of trees in north Dublin versus south Dublin. Fingal County Council recorded 9.80 per cent canopy cover across its constituency, while the figure for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was 16.38 per cent. 


This disparity suggests that a greater number of trees and greenery are planted in areas populated by larger, more expensive homes beyond the city centre.


“Participation and inclusion are key to fostering a sense of ownership and pride in public space.”

“Responsibility for the installation and maintenance of public space trees rests with the council, but this should not preclude the public from engaging and participating in what is planted and where,” said Barry Lupton of Horticulture Connected in a statement to STAND News. “Participation and inclusion are key to fostering a sense of ownership and pride in public space.”


The financial divide between north and south Dublin was evident even before national house price inflation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2018, a year after the publication of UCD’s tree coverage report, the average house in south Dublin was worth €459,229, with north Dublin homes recording an average value of €343,177. 


“Local Property Tax should be part of the contribution for tree planting,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor for Kimmage-Rathmines, Deirdre Conroy. She noted that she does not “understand why Dublin City Council have never planted trees in particular areas, such as Crumlin’s large green spaces.”


The shade cover provided by leafy trees during the summer months can quite literally prove to be the difference between life and death on a hot day. This becomes an especially grave concept when rising global temperatures and the increasing frequency of Irish summer heatwaves are considered. With fewer trees planted in inner-city and less wealthy urban areas, their residents may feel the impacts of climate change and hotter summers more strongly than those in suburban areas. This trend has also been observed within the United States, with less wealthy people disproportionately affected by a lack of leafy shade coverage.  


According to American Forests, a nonprofit organisation and creator of the Tree Equity Score map, “tree cover in almost any American city is also a map of income… lower-income neighbourhoods usually don’t have as many trees.” Inevitably, this means that residents in lower-income areas are more likely to fall victim to heat-related illness during high temperatures. 


Research has revealed that the heatwave mortality risk increases 2.49 per cent for every 0.6 degree Celsius increase in heatwave intensity. The mortality rate then increased by 0.38 per cent for every one-day increase in heatwave duration. 


The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations also argues that if trees are strategically planted in urban areas, they can cool the air by 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. This would reduce the need for air-conditioning units in warmer climates by 30 per cent and reduce energy consumption in the area. 


Alwyn White of Greenleaf Ireland spoke to STAND News, saying that “Success is not really about [the] quantity of trees planted. If a lot of tree planting fails or has to be removed before they mature, then the return on investment is never realised. Planning and investment in getting the correct structure for the trees to develop within is essential to get good long-term outcomes where the trees can thrive and people and property are protected from root heave damage.”


Ultimately, trees improve the quality of life in any given location, and the unequal access to tree coverage around the globe appears to be indicative of a greater social divide. 




Featured photo by Stephen Leonardi

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Coordinator Aimee + Programme Assistant Alex


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