It’s easy to overlook the green space in a city or suburb. If you’re not someone who pays attention to plants (Millennials everywhere clutch their monsteras in shock) it’s easy to think that the amount of green space around you is inconsequential. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
Green space in urban settings reflects a number of forces acting in concert. One is the need for roots not to disrupt roadways and building foundations – fair enough. But beyond structural concerns, a great deal of where plants and parks are placed actually reflects humans’ thinking on deservedness.
Most of the MagicLinks staff lives in Los Angeles, and this city’s green space is a perfect example of how redlining has shaped trees and parks. Starting in the 1930s, banks used maps of neighborhoods to decide which areas were high, medium, or low risk for issuing home loans. The areas that were marked highest risk – ie: “do not issue home loans here” – were areas where minorities lived, and were marked red. Doubling down on this, minorities were often prevented from purchasing homes outside of redlined neighborhoods because of clauses in those home mortgage agreements (called covenants) which made individual homeowners agree that they would never sell the home to a person of color. If you live in an older home and have historic paperwork on your property, you may very well discover covenants still embedded in your home’s history. Between redlining and covenants, segregation was in effect even if it wasn’t expressly on the books as state law. Not just in California, but all over the US.
If you take the 90 year-old redlining map banks used and overlay the tree canopy found in Los Angeles today, you’ll do a double-take: it’s the same map. Then look at income, cancer rates, density/crowding, poverty, unemployment, lead paint, and air pollution. Anyone think the maps change? Anyone? Bueller?
When we think about climate change and preparedness for global warming, we know trees are crucial. They store carbon from the air and are the best cooling canopy available because their leaves are evaporating water at the same time they are providing layers of shade. Green space also is directly correlated to public health. Health is a huge part of the resilience needed in the face of coming climate changes but is also just a reasonable thing to expect your city’s infrastructure to support. Walkable spaces and parks make all the difference when it comes to health, and at this point you’d be right to guess that zip codes are actually the single biggest predictor of health. Not only because of the income disparities, but because of the differences in exposures to dangers, availability of resources, and the baked-in access to safe recreation and activity.
You might be wondering how this has anything to do with e-commerce. Ask yourself for a moment, if where you live is making you sick, or is making your community sick, are you likely to be spending your discretionary income on “nice to have” purchases or on keeping the wheels on the cart?
Real estate is the best way the American economy offers for citizens to build wealth and is the best way to grow intergenerational wealth. If your parents and grandparents were forced into neighborhoods with depressed property values, which were also denied resources, and are places where people’s overall health suffers, how likely is it that your family has built financial security? This consideration alone accounts for a great deal of the difference between the accumulated wealth of white families in America and families of color. Now imagine you want to start an e-commerce business, or become an influencer. What resources, exactly, are you going to have to jump-start your endeavor?
Participating in e-commerce, on equal footing, and being recognized as voices with equal contribution to the conversation means grappling with and truly addressing the racism that has segregated our economy for generations. When consumers buy, they vote with their dollars. Families who have less purchasing power have less ability to vote for what they want to see in the economy. And green space, while being an important part of thinking about climate change, is also a canary in the coal mine for racism’s effects on economic fairness.
The links embedded in this piece are really great starting places for a deeper dive if you’re interested, and the last link on intergenerational wealth is a wonderful piece from the Brookings Institution which we’re linking to a second time here because knowledge is power.
And as a parting note, the debates over redlining are ongoing today. Yes, today today.
Be part of the change you want to see and join us in standing for what matters,