The politics of urban trees: Tree planting is associated with gentrification in Portland, Oregon
This study evaluated the hypothesis that urban-tree planting increases neighborhood gentrification in Portland, Oregon. We defined gentrification as an increase in the median sales price of single-family homes in a Census tract compared to other tracts in the city after accounting for differences in the housing stock such as house size and number of bathrooms. We used tree-planting data from the non-profit Friends of Trees, who have planted 57,985 yard and street trees in Portland (1990–2019). We estimated a mixed model of gentrification (30 years and 141 tracts) including random intercepts at the tract level and a first-order auto-regressive residual structure. Tract-level house prices and tree planting may be codetermined. Therefore, to address potential endogeneity of tree planting in statistical modeling, we lagged the number of trees planted by at least one year. We found that the number of trees planted in a tract was significantly associated with a higher tract-level median sales price, although it took at least six years for this relationship to emerge. Specifically, each tree was associated with a $131 (95% CI: $53–$210; p-value = 0.001) increase in tract-level median sales price six years after planting. The magnitude of the association between the number of trees planted and median sales price generally increased as the time lag lengthened. After twelve years, each tree was associated with a $265 (95% CI: $151–$379; p-value< 0.001) increase in tract-level median sales price. Tree planting was not merely a proxy for existing tree cover, as the percent of a tract covered in tree canopy was independently associated with an increase in median sales price. Specifically, each 1-percentage point increase in tree-canopy cover was associated with a $882 (95% CI: $226–$1538; p-value = 0.008) increase in median sales price. In conclusion, tree planting is associated with neighborhood-level gentrification, although the magnitude of the association is modest.