Rooted in Chicago

Project Team

Authors: Jeffrey Haussler, Ellie Frey, Michael McCoy, Roshni Nair

Institution: The Ohio State University

Instructors: Ethan Mcgory and Paula Meijerink

Studio: Trees for All People; Undergraduate Landscape Architecture; Fall 2021

Project Description

The practice of redlining has created starkly color‐coded neighborhoods in the city of Chicago that have far‐reaching implications on the income, education levels, health, and life expectancy of citizens, especially for People of Color. Often, the practice of investment in green‐lined areas, leads to the decline of red‐lined areas, compounding the effects of race and class division in Chicago. By analyzing and critiquing demographic data and current policies, we seek to propose a more radical approach to providing redlined areas with increased tree canopy, and social and economic equity. The demographic data reveals that Black and Brown neighborhoods in the South Side of Chicago have vastly lower tree canopy than the suburbs that are occupied by White communities. Lower tree canopy combined with higher urban heat, higher impervious surfaces and lower income and education creates a city in which your neighborhood can be the best indicator of how long you can expect to live. While thinking about South Side Chicago, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Black and Brown people are policed and incarcerated at higher rates than others in this country, therefore, we also analyzed where parolees from the city of Chicago are likely to live.

Chicago Region Tree Initiative (CRTI) is a masterplan for the city that was developed to increase its tree canopy overall. However, by analyzing demographic data, the areas that were specified as “priority communities” varied drastically from areas that we identified as “areas of need”. The CRTI plan as it is, would continue to invest in majority White neighborhoods and Chicago suburbs while overlooking the Black and Brown communities of the South Side. To push back, we propose “Rooted in Chicago,” a three‐pronged approach to empower communities in a sustainable fashion. By providing tax incentives to those residents that plant trees, we empower community members to take the greening of Chicago into their own hands and get paid for keeping trees alive. The Arborist Work Program is based in social justice and equity distribution. This program allows for ex‐incarcerated people to get certified as arborists and make a living wage by contributing to their communities and maintaining street trees. Lastly, the Green Streets Initiative takes environmental justice into account by retrofitting streets and turning them into green streets. Not only would this provide green space to residents in walkable distance, but it also reduces automobile pollution, increases tree canopy, and increases property value. Through the “Rooted in Chicago” proposal, we aim to radically expand the CRTI’s plan in a way that prioritizes social, economic, and environmental equity to continue to empower residents to actively participate in the greening of their city.


Additional Links

Project on JSTOR

Studio Description

This project was created as part of the Trees for All People studio at The Ohio State University.

This studio examines racial inequality in urban tree canopy and quality of life in Midwestern cities. It studies the legal and historical roots of these inequities and proposes new legislation to create more just and sustainable cities. Students examined correlations in urban tree canopy, race, income, education, impervious surfaces and health in five major cities in the Midwest: Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee. They found that the livability, ecological function, and comfort of neighborhoods throughout these cities are strongly correlated to the race, income and education of their residents. People of color are more likely to live in areas with fewer trees, lower life expectancy, and experience more health problems than white neighborhoods. Students found that these differences were caused by legislation, redlining, highway construction and other intentional governmental acts. In the following projects, students illustrate these findings through maps, graphics, charts and tables that tell the unique story of injustice in each of these cities. This studio considered legislation as a creative act that can combat these injustices and forward ideals of the Green New Deal: increasing canopy cover, creating jobs, and fostering more equitable and sustainable communities. The students’ legislative solutions are varied, based on the specific problems, opportunities, and unique character of each city. The nature of these solutions ranges from new development codes, to neighborhood tree steward programs, tax incentives, urban tree nurseries and more. We hope that the work of this studio will help create cities that are more just and sustainable, and encourage more landscape architects to take a role in the development of legislation.