The two satellite photos that you are seeing above are from the Ball Square in Somerville and West Cambridge. Do you notice the differences? I’m sure you have. But did you notice that the photos reveal that West Cambridge has more trees than Ball Square? Well, according to Tim DeChant, who blogs over at Per Square Mile, urban trees – or the lack thereof – can actually reveal income inequality. “I was curious, could I actually see income inequality from space? It turned out to be easier than I expected,” DeChant said.


Tim, who has written for the Chicago Tribune, Ars Technica and many others, believes that there is a tight relationship between per capita income and forest cover. His basis was a research published a few years ago that tallied total forest cover for 210 cities over 100,000 people in the U.S. using the Department of Agriculture’s natural resource inventory and satellite imagery. According to DeChant, the research revealed that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent.

But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. The research also states that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property and that the well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees as well. “It’s the poorer ones that probably need trees the most but are the least able to plant and maintain them,” Tim DeChant commented. You can check out his blog for more details.

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