Emerald Necklace, Green Space – Nathaniel Pyo



Green space can serve somewhat as a measurement of a given landscape’s prosperity. Whether by creating a refreshing break from the monotony of common life, improving the quality of air and the environment, or providing shade and refuge from the sun, trees and plants represent a thriving and healthy landscape. Not only that, but plants require special attention and maintenance in comparison to plain sidewalks and pavements. However, with every indication of wealth (not only in a monetary sense), there often exists an opposite image of poverty, typically in the absence of wealth. By viewing trees as a standard/scale of wealth, we can attempt to compare tree canopies in different neighborhoods to see how they correlate with statistics like ethnic makeup and household income.

When looking at aerial views of Mission Hill, Beacon Hill, Fenway, and West Roxbury, we see that West Roxbury has the most green space by a large margin, with each street being consistently lined with trees, and grass running all throughout the neighborhood. The other three neighborhoods are each somewhat lacking in their own way; Mission Hill has scarce but large clumps of trees, Fenway is more distributed with groups of one or two small trees, and Beacon Hill is in between Mission Hill and Fenway, with sporadic clumps interspersed. 

With this in mind, we now look towards the demographics of each of these areas, in terms of racial makeup and household income, and other indicators of diversity and wealth. All statistics were found using Statistical Atlas, which uses data from the US Census Bureau. Beacon Hill is 84.7% White, 4.7% Hispanic, 3% Black, and 5.7% Asian. West Roxbury is 71.8% White, 7.9% Hispanic, 10.8% Black, and 7.2% Asian. Fenway is 62.2% White, 10.4% Hispanic, 8.1% Black, and 16.1% Asian. Mission Hill is 42.2% White, 17.2% Hispanic, 19.3% Black, and 19.3% Asian. In that order, the median household income of each area is $102.2k, $90.5k, $37.9k, and $37.3k, and the poverty rates are 9.8%, 5.5%, 43.7%, and 40.9%. With these statistics, we see a definite correlation between higher minority percentage and lower median income. Thus, one might expect less green space to be present in high minority percentage and low income areas. The above stated aerial analysis highlights West Roxbury as having significantly more trees in comparison to the other three neighborhoods, which are all similar in their lack of trees. 

West Roxbury is among the neighborhoods with a high white population and high income, so its large amount of green space aligns with the idea of trees and plants as an indicator of “wealth.” In terms of the other three neighborhoods, upon further inspection, we see that the maps of where the white population lives and where the high income houses are located tend to be extremely similar. When compared with the aerial analysis, these spaces are also the areas with the most trees and plants. Fenway and Mission Hill’s white populus are concentrated near the rivers on the edges, where most of the trees in that neighborhood are placed. In Beacon Hill, with an overwhelming white percentage, the entire map is essentially filled with high income, white houses. However, in comparison to West Roxbury, Beacon Hill has a higher white percentage and median household income, yet West Roxbury seems to have the most green space by a large margin. In fact, Beacon Hill can be considered to have the least green space out of the four locations we analyzed. We must take into account that Beacon Hill is adjacent to Boston Common, one of the most notable public parks in the United States. Beacon Hill features historical sites and buildings, along with larger, taller houses, while West Roxbury is filled with tightly packed neighborhoods of smaller residential homes. Thus, West Roxbury’s lining of green space fits with its uniform compactness, while most of Beacon Hill’s green space is concentrated in one central area, aligning with the layout of individual sites and standalone buildings. In their own separate ways, the green space in West Roxbury and Beacon Hill represent affluence and prosperity over time.

Now, what exactly does a correlation between higher white percentage, higher median household income, and increased green space entail? The effects of redlining and racial discrimination in real estate are clear: white neighborhoods were able to multiply their wealth, while minority neighborhoods were stripped of the same opportunities and were dismissed as “undesirable” - thus lowering the market value over time. Green space can act as another indicator of “high income” or “affluence,” which, in the context of redlining, is often absent in minority and low income neighborhoods. Fenway and Mission Hill are both historically low income and high in minority population, and are not completely lacking in green space, with Fenway featuring a part of the Emerald Necklace. However, the white populus in these neighborhoods is concentrated towards areas with increased green space, while minority households are pushed towards locations with considerably less trees. On the flipside, most streets in West Roxbury are lined with trees, and Boston Common is in close proximity to Beacon Hill. West Roxbury is historically a neighborhood that benefited from redlining; the neighborhood was notably white, deeming it “desirable.” Black people were denied mortgages to maintain West Roxbury’s status. Beacon Hill, although previously home to African Americans around the Civil War, is a prime example of how gentrification can drive Black Americans out of improving neighborhoods. A majority of the Black population was pushed out of Beacon Hill into surrounding neighborhoods.

In line with Ibram X. Kendi’s thoughts on antiracist discrimination, increased green space in high minority percentage neighborhoods can represent a movement towards racial equity. The New York Times’ analysis of heat maps exposed how high minority neighborhoods often have higher recorded temperatures in the summer, which is likely attributed somewhat to tree canopy. Just as white people have historically represented wealth, trees and green space are signs of affluence. Thus, green space development has often occurred in areas thought to be “worth investing in.” Minority neighborhoods are largely left out of those areas. Rather than furthering the trend of racial inequity, there needs to be a push towards planting more trees and creating a greener environment in minority neighborhoods.


“Overview of the United States.” The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States - Statistical Atlas, statisticalatlas.com/United-States/Overview. 

Popovich, Nadja, and Christopher Flavelle. “Summer in the City Is Hot, but Some Neighborhoods Suffer More.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/09/climate/city-heat-islands.html. 

“Poverty in Boston.” Boston Planning and Development Agency, Boston Redevelopment Authority Research Division, Mar. 2014, bostonplans.org. 

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Large Print, 2020.