Canada has one of the highest number of trees per capita worldwide1. However, even though there are an estimated 8,953 trees per person, not all Canadians have equal access to trees and their benefits1. That said, with around 80% of the population living in urban areas, municipalities have begun focusing efforts on increasing urban tree canopy coverage, the area of a region covered by trees, to increase the accessibility of trees for all Canadians.

The importance of equitable tree access

Studies in Toronto2 and Halifax3 identified that lower income or racialized neighbourhoods tended to have lower access to trees. Similarly, neighbourhoods with a higher median income exhibited a greater canopy cover compared to neighbourhoods with a lower median income. Recognizing this disparity and the significance of tree accessibility, municipalities around the world are being encouraged to create equal access to trees and greenspaces. This can be addressed at multiple levels, including by the trees planted on private properties, the tree population throughout a neighbourhood, and through access to larger greenspaces such as parks.

As municipalities work to increase tree accessibility, a common target is to achieve 30% tree canopy coverage. However, it is important to meet this target at the neighbourhood level, not just citywide, in an effort to provide equal tree access to all neighbourhoods, regardless of their demographic.

Planting trees to meet canopy goals

One way to meet these canopy goals is to plant trees in neighbourhoods identified as having low canopy coverage. However, sometimes the reason for low coverage is due in part to limited space for planting requirements. To maximize planting sites and their viability for new trees, municipalities should consider the following strategies:

1. Expand soil areas for planting. Where space is limited, breaking up concrete or using innovative techniques can help create additional space for planting.

2. Choose the appropriate tree species. If the planting site is small, choosing species that will flourish in smaller areas is important.

3. Create incentive programs. When public planting sites are limited, creating incentives for property owners to plant on private land is an alternative way to increase tree plantings.

Protecting the existing canopy

As important as it is to plant trees, it is equally vital to protect the canopy that currently exists. There are a couple ways in which municipalities and land managers can help maintain their local tree canopy:

1. Governance: Through creating regulatory standards, municipalities and land managers can establish their expectations for tree maintenance and protection. Penalties for removing trees or incentives for keeping them promote additional consideration of these important resources.

2. Maintenance: It’s important to consider budget allocation and maintenance requirements, such as regular watering and pruning practices, to ensure the sustainable growth and health of a canopy.

The road ahead

More work is needed to reach green equity in urban settings across Canada, but we are hopeful for a greener future. At Tree Canada, we are always encouraged by the municipalities we encounter that are taking the necessary steps to increase their canopy coverage equally among all neighbourhoods in their community.