Pursuing environmental justice in Philadelphia, USA through community organizing and urban tree-planting

Authors: Amber Grant*, Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, Ryerson University; Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance Group (UFRED), Ryerson University, Andrew A Millward, Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, Ryerson University; Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance Group (UFRED), Ryerson University, Sara Edge, Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, Ryerson University, Lara Roman, US Forest Service, Philadelphia, Northern Research Station, Cheryl Teelucksingh, Department of Sociology, Ryerson University
Topics: Social Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: urban forest management, environmental justice, sustainability; equity; community tree-planting
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many racialized and low-income neighbourhoods in the United States are documented to have fewer urban trees compared with white and affluent neighbourhoods. This phenomenon is representative of a contemporary environmental injustice. To address this, non-profit organizations and community groups have begun to organize and deliver community-based tree-planting programs in urban neighbourhoods that have fewer trees. Using a critical environmental justice framework, this study investigates how environmental justice is being pursued and implemented in community-based tree-planting practices in Philadelphia, USA. In particular, this work evaluates the perspectives of community tree-planting organizers who have been working with a larger non-profit organization to engage homeowners to plant street trees in their neighbourhoods. Participant observation at three different community-based tree-planting events in Philadelphia was conducted to examine how these events were delivered and who was in attendance. This was followed by interviews with community tree-planting organizers to explore: 1) how participants define or measure environmental justice; 2) which outreach strategies were used to engage community members; 3) whether or how these community tree-planting events benefit them and their communities; and, 4) the perceived and realized barriers that prevent community members from participating in these tree-planting events. This case study is presented within the context of a broader research purpose, which is to understand environmental justice goals in urban forest management plans and community tree-planting practice in the United States and offer recommendations that could help lead to their realization. Achievement of these goals can have far-reaching implications for sustainability and equity in cities.

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