To people in most parts of the country, sunny Los Angeles represents an escape from the very idea of seasons. While all that sunshine feels idyllic from a distance, the reality is that shade has become a serious commodity for Angelenos as temperatures rise. In turn, it’s heightened the disparities between the city’s zip codes, inspired new urban planning initiatives, and created a differentiator in the realms of real estate and design.
As climate change has manifested in the form of both wildfires and rising temperatures, the city of Los Angeles has taken the view that shade is a public good that the entire city deserves. According to the The New York Times, L.A.’s municipal government is waging an all-out war on direct sunlight in public spaces by bringing shade to roughly 750 city bus stops and planting 90,000 shade trees by 2021. The city has even deputized Rachel Malarich as the city’s first-ever forestry officer, telling the Times her goal is to “to find spaces for big trees,” especially among underserved communities. In a sign of just how serious the municipal government is about creating cover for Angelenos, the idea of eventually phasing out many of L.A.’s iconic palm trees is even on the table.
While parts of L.A. where residents rely on public transportation and lack sprawling garden estates are shade deserts, the mansion lots of wealthy hillside neighborhoods are veritable jungles. According to a 2008 U.S. Forest Service assessment, Bel Air features more than five times the canopy cover of South Los Angeles, a poorer part of town where residents erect makeshift sunlight-fighting structures routinely classified as sidewalk obstructions by the Department of Public Works.
Much as with other manifestations of economic inequality such as food deserts, it seems that L.A. is determined to intervene in order to improve public health outcomes. Among them, according to Malarich, are fewer hospital visits during heat waves, reduced asthma rates, and better mental health in a given area.
So long as the city government is making a concerted push to extoll the virtues of shade, it won’t be long before trees on a given property are valued less for their aesthetics than for their shade-granting abilities. And given that tree cover sits at the nexus of ongoing wellness and sustainability trends, shade will likely become more of a must-have commodity for homebuyers and property owners than it already is.