Purdue University Graduate School
Darling_Dissertation FINAL.pdf (4.15 MB)

The legacies of urban development on forest distribution, composition, and its relevance for improving equity

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posted on 2023-12-14, 14:24 authored by Lindsay Elaine DarlingLindsay Elaine Darling

The distribution of people and infrastructure in North American cities is not random, nor is it equitable. Minoritized communities often have less access to trees and forests and to the benefits that they provide. This pattern has developed over centuries. North American cities were built on indigenous land, and the location of rivers, wetlands, forests, and prairies influenced where houses were built, factories erected, parks sited, and where natural areas were preserved. As people moved to cities, wealthier individuals could afford to buy homes in places that they found more desirable. These places often were near parks or lakes and often had more trees. Less wealthy people could only afford homes in places that had less green infrastructure and places that were nearer to environmental harms like polluting industries. Unfortunately, in the United States, wealth is associated with race, meaning that from an early time its cities were segregated. As cities expanded and migration from the Jim Crow South and immigration from Eastern Europe increased, these wealthier, whiter communities restricted non-white people from moving into them with racist covenants and through redlining, deepening segregation. In this dissertation, I explored how this ecological and social history affected the ecology of a metropolitan region’s forests, and how that related to who gets to experience them. I also showed how the associations between socio-demographic variables and tree canopy varied across an urban to exurban region. Finally, I identified barriers to requesting and planting trees that residents experience and strategies that may help governments and strategies that may help overcome them. I found that communities of color had less access to forests that have a higher capacity to provide ecosystem services; that while segregation existed in urban, suburban, and exurban communities, canopy inequity did not; and that managing existing trees and working with neighborhood associations is the best way to encourage planting and stewardship of trees that can reduce tree equity.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Forestry and Natural Resources

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Brady Hardiman

Additional Committee Member 2

Zhao Ma

Additional Committee Member 3

Roshanek Nateghi

Additional Committee Member 4

Christine Rollinson

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