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Shade inequality in Los Angeles

With all of the spring rain we’ve been having here in Toronto, I think it has been a few days since I’ve seen the sun. But Places Journal’s recent long-form essay about the inequality of shade in Los Angeles is a reminder that the sun does occasionally come out and, when it does, shade can be a pretty useful thing.

Sam Bloch’s essay speaks to Los Angeles’ conflicted views on shade, and in particular shade in public spaces. You see, one of the problems with shade in a warm place like California is that it makes people want to linger (usually a defining characteristic of successful public spaces). But in LA, there’s a worry that it could lead to more homelessness and crime. Trees create places to hide.

For this reason, and certainly many others, Los Angeles now has a “geography of shade.” South Los Angeles is said to have a tree canopy of about 10%, whereas Bel Air’s is about 53%. Shade has become a kind of luxury. As a point of comparison, the US national average is somewhere around 27%.

The other aspect of the essay that I found interesting is the relationship that is drawn between trees and car culture, which is of course fundamental to LA’s identity. Here’s an excerpt:

Despite that early fame, palm trees did not really take over Los Angeles until the 1930s, when a citywide program set tens of thousands of palms along new or recently expanded roads. They were the ideal tree for an automobile landscape. Hardy, cheap, and able to grow anywhere, palm trees are basically weeds. Their shallow roots curl up into a ball, so they can be plugged into small pavement cuts without entangling underground sewer and water mains or buckling sidewalks. 

Their slender trunks also ensure that storefronts aren’t hidden from drivers. In 1391 alone, the city planted some 25,000 palm trees. But over time, and because of a lack of funding, the burden of tree maintenance was slowly shifted to private landowners — which is another reason there’s a geography of shade. It reflects who had and has the means.

Photo by Viviana Rishe on Unsplash

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