The relationship between urban forests and race: A meta-analysis

J Environ Manage. 2018 Mar 1:209:152-168. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.12.021. Epub 2018 Jan 4.


There is ample evidence that urban trees benefit the physical, mental, and social health of urban residents. The environmental justice hypothesis posits that environmental amenities are inequitably low in poor and minority communities, and predicts these communities experience fewer urban environmental benefits. Some previous research has found that urban forest cover is inequitably distributed by race, though other studies have found no relationship or negative inequity. These conflicting results and the single-city nature of the current literature suggest a need for a research synthesis. Using a systematic literature search and meta-analytic techniques, we examined the relationship between urban forest cover and race. First, we estimated the average (unconditional) relationship between urban forest cover and race across studies (studies = 40; effect sizes = 388). We find evidence of significant race-based inequity in urban forest cover. Second, we included characteristics of the original studies and study sites in meta-regressions to illuminate drivers of variation of urban forest cover between studies. Our meta-regressions reveal that the relationship varies across racial groups and by study methodology. Models reveal significant inequity on public land and that environmental and social characteristics of cities help explain variation across studies. As tree planting and other urban forestry programs proliferate, urban forestry professionals are encouraged to consider the equity consequences of urban forestry activities, particularly on public land.

Keywords: Environmental equity; Environmental racism; Meta-analysis; Street trees; Urban vegetation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Cities*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Forestry
  • Forests*
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups*
  • Trees