Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Economist's Notebook: Trees, Redux

In a previous post I mused about why wealthy neighborhoods often have wonderful canopies of mature trees and less affluent neighborhoods of similar vintage do not.

Well, today I got the Economic Naturalist explanation I was hoping for. I was talking to a friend who is a contractor in Portland and I posed the question to him. He hesitated nary a second and stated flatly:

'Gardens! Poor people needed sunlight to grow their own food and the rich just wanted green grass. So the poor cut down the trees.'

Now I don't know how far this explanation goes, or even how true it is, but as an economic naturalist explanation, I love it. Perhaps my dear readers can help sort out the truthiness of this explanation.

I look forward to your responses...


nixzusehen said...

That might help explain back yard trees, but says nothing about front yard/street trees. I can't think of the last time I saw anyone growing food in their front yard. Well, maybe I can think of one, but that's in wealthy neighborhood in Portland with tons of street trees (Irvington) and a house that's set back from the road quite a bit more than is typical.

You'd also have to show that gardening for food is more common amongst poor people, which I actually find difficult to believe (even though it can make economic sense). I suspect poor people would end up working a second job instead of spending that time gardening, though I could I be wrong.

Patrick Emerson said...

Well, the commentor was thinking of the 1910 to 1950 period when these neighborhoods were maturing.

I have no data, but I suspect that with the rise of agri-business and supermarkets, veggie gardens switched from being a necessity of the working class to a hobby for the more wealthy. Also as land in cities becomes more and more valuable, the ability of working class families to have a garden patch has diminished.

Also, I think some of these huge trees in the front could still shae the backs, but I take your point, the argument is not terribly robust to this criticism.

Dann Cutter said...

Not to mention that if you are looking at the canopies currently in place, most are 40 years or younger. I grew up in the west hills, and we had a HUGE garden, and a full canopy...

... it is lot size and opportunity cost of land use.

Jordan Curzon said...

I think the trees increase the price of the houses and lower income people chose to buy houses with no trees but lower prices. I think the same thing applies to living on the "other side of the tracks".