Private Trees, Public Benefit: Fortifying L.A.’s Disappearing Tree Canopy

Private Trees, Public Benefit: Fortifying L.A.’s Disappearing Tree Canopy

July 21, 2021
12:00 PM
via Zoom

Trees in Los Angeles are under threat – some neighborhoods have seen their tree canopies shrink by 15 to 44 percent since the turn of the century, according to a 2017 USC study. Drought, disease, construction, and sidewalk repairs are amongst the culprits that have been chipping away at our public resource. As with any major city, urban forestry in Los Angeles is vital for the health and wellbeing of our communities.  The preservation and expansion of the tree canopy is a key strategy to mitigate the impacts of urban growth and climate change.

However, the urban forest also lays bare two of LA’s most pressing societal challenges: entrenched inequality and the limits of government influence. A recent study by the LMU Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) showed that Los Angeles County has a robust urban forest, but the region’s trees are not evenly distributed among communities, reflecting decades of public disinvestment in communities of color and contributing to great variations in the social, environmental and health benefits to residents. Throughout the country, studies have observed that formerly redlined neighborhoods are the ones that experience the greatest urban heat island effect, driven by sparse tree canopy and an abundance of heat trapping surfaces.

While local government has an important role to play in the preservation and maintenance of trees on our streets and public lands, these only account for a fraction of our urban trees. Addressing inequities and bolstering the tree canopy will necessarily require the participation of private land owners as well as local jurisdictions. How might we encourage, incentivize, and celebrate private sector examples of bolstering our tree canopy, especially on the Westside where there is so much low-rise residential? And how do we ensure this happens in low-wealth neighborhoods?



Jerome Chou – Planning Director, Kounkuey Design Initiative



Scott Baker – President, RELM

Eric Strauss – President's Professor of Biology & Executive Director, LMU Center for Urban Resilience

Milan Ratkovich – Executive Vice President, The Ratkovich Company

Wister Dorta – Project, Operations & Urban Forest Management, City of Santa Monica