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  • Health
  • Environmental Justice
  • Climate Action
  • Economic Impact
  • Government Policy
  • Sustainability

Cities, Trees & Inequality

Created by: Dan Castrigano
Date: Jun 25, 2021
Duration: 55 minutes
Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th
Subjects: Math, Justice
Keywords: air quality, environmental justice, biodiversity, forests, disparity, black, rich, trees, benefits, urban areas, poor, white, urban heat island

This lesson is about the distribution and density of trees in urban areas. Overall, there is more tree cover in wealthier and whiter areas of cities, disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color.

Step 1 - Inquire: Explore a spreadsheet and two graphs showing urban forest cover and its connection to wealth and race.

Step 2 - Investigate: Watch three videos and take notes on the benefits of trees.

Step 3 - Inspire: Complete a written reflection noticing the distribution of trees near their homes.

Accompanying Teaching Materials

20 minutes

  • Students examine the spreadsheet linked on slide 1 of the slideshow.

    • Students write down noticings and wonderings on slide 1 of the slideshow.

    • Select students share their noticings and wonderings with the entire class.

  • Teacher shows slide 2 and says “Today we will look at where trees are in cities and what that does to the temperature.”

  • Teacher shows slide 3, pointing out the map in the bottom left. “You can see the little green dots in the inset map here in Los Angeles show that certain areas of Los Angeles have more trees than others. This area of dense green dots is up in the hills northwest of downtown LA in a richer neighborhood.”

  • Teacher shows slide 4 and explains that the richer areas of cities have more tree cover.

  • Teacher shows slide 5 and says, “Now this is a tough graph to interpret. But let’s look at it for a while.”

    • Students turn and talk to try to make sense of this graph.

    • Students will realize that richer areas of cities (from left to right on the graph):

      • Are less densely populated

      • Have more forest cover

      • Are older

      • Are whiter

20 minutes
  • Teacher says “Now we know one major benefit of urban trees is that they lower the temperature. Remember that, in general, richer parts of cities are cooler than poorer areas of cities. We saw that in the Bridgeport-Stamford, CT-NY urbanized area there is a 4.8°C (or more than 8.5°F) difference in temperature between the poorest and richest census blocks.”

  • Teacher creates groups of 2-3 students.

  • In groups, students will write down as many benefits of trees as possible while watching three videos.

    • Students will write directly in the slideshow.
    • Teacher shows videos on slides 6, 7, and 8 in succession.

      • Videos are 1:15, 1:37, and 5:25 in length.

    • Willing students share out their lists with the rest of the class.

    15 minutes
    • Students complete a written reflection.

    • Guiding questions on the assignment include noticing how many trees are near their homes and if they notice any connections between wealth, race, and age.

    Teaching Tips


    • This is an engaging lesson because it is so personal. Students will think about tree cover where they live and how that relates to demographic data.

    Additional Prerequisites

    • The videos list the benefits of trees pretty quickly. It might be hard for students to type fast enough to keep up. You could play the videos at 0.9 speed or replay parts of the videos as necessary.

      • The following is a list of benefits of trees. Students will create a similar list while they are watching the three videos outlining the benefits of trees.
        • Reduce nearby outside temperatures

        • Reduce amount of energy used for heating and cooling buildings

        • Absorb carbon dioxide, thus mitigating climate change

        • Filter urban pollutants and fine particulates

        • Provide habitat, food, and protection to plants and animals

        • Provide food for people

        • Increase biodiversity

        • Provide wood that can be used at the end of a tree’s life

        • Improve physical and mental health of people

        • Increase property values

        • Create oxygen

        • Provide shade for people and animals

        • Control stormwater runoff, protecting water quality and reducing the need for water treatment

        • Protect against mudslides

        • Help prevent floods

        • Improve air quality

        • Increase attention spans and decrease stress levels in people

        • Improve health outcomes in hospital patients


      • Teachers can use the glossary at the end of the slideshow at any point throughout the lesson to help students understand vocabulary.

      • The spreadsheet and the graph on slide 5 might be tricky. Encourage your students to turn and talk to one another for help.

      • Many students will not have a good understanding of Celsius. Easy reminder: Multiply the temperature in Celsius by 1.8 to get degrees Fahrenheit. Example: 2.5°C x 1.8 = 4.5°F (The temperature difference between poorest and richest census blocks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.)
      • The graph on slide 5 features a quadruple y-axis. This will probably be new for most students.

        • The class can make collective meaning out of the spreadsheet and graph. You can ask for one student’s analysis and then have other students add on to their thinking. After a student shares, you can use the language “Wonderful. Can you add on to their thinking?” as you choose another student to expand upon the analysis.

      • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
        • Dimension 2: Economics
          • D2.Eco.1.6-8 Explain how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society.
      • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
        • Dimension 2: Geography
          • D2.Geo.2.6-8 Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions, and changes in their environmental characteristics.
      • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
        • Dimension 2: Geography
          • D2.Geo.5.6-8 Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.
      • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
        • Dimension 2: Geography
          • D2.Geo.8.6-8 Analyze how relationships between humans and environments extend or contract spatial patterns of settlement and movement.


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