Philadelphia trees are racist!

They say when you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Since the Inquirer announced, in a stunning letter from its publisher, that it would henceforth be “anti-racist” (suggesting it had been racist until then), it has found new ways to promote its creed.

Trees cool and beautify. (Photo: Philadelphia Magazine)

Like a story, which at a glance could be headlined, “Trees Are Racist.”

Why? Because in Philadelphia trees are found mostly in white neighborhoods. 

Wow, those damn white supremacist trees! 

And I don’t mean just white birch and white poplar. Maybe we should cut them all down, creating a desert of glorious equity.

It isn’t until the 11th paragraph in the story that we learn that “income, not necessarily race, correlates most closely with how leafy a neighborhood appears from above.” Although it wanted to play the race card, facts got in the way.

It found that wealthy zip codes like Chestnut Hill have more trees than low-income neighborhoods like Kensington. Well, duh. Chestnut Hill is defined by single homes on a grassy lot, while Kensington is defined by row homes without lawns.

If you dig deeply enough in the story, it explains all this, but the facts are downplayed so as not to infringe on the subtle aroma of racism.

At one point, in explaining the now-dead (by law, anyway) racist practice of redlining certain neighborhoods, the story notes that one area of North Philadelphia “was redlined in 1937, noting that half the people were immigrants” and 40% of the residents were Black.

Work the numbers and you find that the majority of residents were white, and were redlined anyway because of their low income, not because of skin color.

Trees can be a pain in the ass — some stink (hel-lo Mr. Ginkgo), the roots of some bust through sidewalks, leaves can be slippery and clog sewer inlets, some drip sap ruining the finish on autos, some crash in storms, damaging homes and even killing people. Killer trees!

When done right they provide a canopy, they cool, and they add beauty to the cityscape.

Philadelphia has a special relationship with trees. I mean, look at the map of city streets — Chestnut, Walnut, Locust, Cypress, Pine, Spruce, Weeping Willow (OK, kidding about the last one.)

The story talked a lot about Chestnut Hill (zip code 19118, $80,950), but when I looked at the zip code map I noticed something interesting. 

The zip code with even higher income (Society Hill, 19106, $93,222) had very few trees. Why? Narrow streets and row houses. The zip code with a slightly lower income (Center City West, 19102, $65,703) also lacked a great green canopy. 

This shows that wealth does not automatically translate into more trees. There are other factors involved.

And race is among the less important.

16 thoughts on “Philadelphia trees are racist!”

    Speaking of ‘Black Walnuts”……
    When I was just a mere youth. The Inner city had trees in just about every neighborhood. The ever popular ‘Button Wood’ was all over the place.
    Many things were right and wrong in laying out ( planning ) the city. For one thing, the folks back then did not understand how to manage root systems. Thus the cracked terracotta sewer pipes, the raised sidewalks and on and on. I had learned that at various times, the sidewalk and curb strip either belonged to Joe/Joan homeowner or it did not. Mostly, when their was a problem with sidewalks and trees and stuff, the problem was yours. Not the city’s problem. You can not even trim, shape or manage a tree without city permission. In plain English. Take care of a tree, spend a few bucks or listen to the city and spend thousands having that tree removed !
    Since then ( late ’90s ) Philly started managing the trees much better. Education, technology and of course, money will do that. Whatever trees were planted, were done so with the idea of protecting surrounding environments. Hopefully, the city continues this project.

    1. My South Bronx tenement had a garden courtyard and hedges along the curb. When cars came, the doors opening killed the hedges. Lack of maintenance killed the garden, which was paved over. And then we escaped the Soutb Bronx To a city housing project in Brooklyn with grass and just-planted young trees.

  2. I have read other articles regarding the lack of trees in lower income areas. My first thoughts are; there is free tree planting provided by the city. Who is the council person for that district and why haven’t they become more active in helping to provide the heat relief needed to their constituents.

  3. BINGO, Stu, regarding that Society Hill part of your post. Honestly, before I even finished that Inqy article, it was one of the first thoughts that occurred to me. And then, there is was, virtually ignored.

    You are so correct about how this article was crafted – actually, rather craftily. Bury the facts way down in there somewhere, and likely the average reader will not see them or realize their significance.

    Again, thank you for continuing to point out how this newspaper, along with many others around the US, slant stories to make things appear worse than they are – for their own Special Purpose. It’s not that, in this case, that lack of trees isn’t a real problem – it is. But to put a racist slant to it, is, of course, an unfair justification by this, and other similar news media – especially when white people lived in the vast majority of those same “hoods they’re complaining about now, starting in the early 1900’s up to about the 60’s, when the migration was in full swing. The Big Difference is that those lack of trees had less effect due to a lesser climate problem during those years. So now blame the problem on racism? Cut me the proverbial break!! What lack of true intelligence and insight on their part. They truly enjoy fanning the flames.

  4. Years ago Soloman Jones had a radio show which was a harbinger of days to come.I would listen to get the daily update on just what act of racism was today’s special.Would it be Santa Claus?The tooth fairy?The Easter bunny? the possibilities were endless and depressing.I used to wonder if there was no other joy or passion in this mans life.Naturally he has a column in the Inquirer.

    1. Once upon a time, Solomon wrote a family column and was pretty good.
      I wish I could make a living writing about what it’s like to be white. Or male. Or Jewish. 😊

  5. Good afternoon Mr. Bykofsky,

    Another excellent & insightful article.

    I was a daily reader of the Philadelphia Inquirer until I wasn’t- which took place at the beginning of 2021. The type of article you referenced in your post is exactly why I quit reading.

    Keep up the good work & thank you for providing a place I am happy to visit. Have a great weekend!

  6. I alternately laughed and groaned while reading this article in the local paper.
    I kept hoping it was satire.
    Sadly, it’s not. Trees are racist.
    Following this line of thinking (and I use the term very loosely) to its conclusion (I will not use
    the word “logical”), the magnificent Japanese maple tree in front of my apartment building should be removed—it’s Cultural Appropriation!
    Although there are many ethnicities among our tenants, none is actually Japanese!

    “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”….

  7. Dear Stu-
    The “Metropolitan” section of today’s “New York Times” proves that your native city has
    racist trees, too.

    1. How many black trees were murdered to make the newsprint for the NYT? And why were white trees spared? The horror continues unabated!

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