Gun violence has risen to crisis levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t impacted all communities equally. Neighborhoods affected by residential racial segregation, with long histories of disinvestment and deprivation, experience the most gun violence.

A new study from LDI Senior Fellow Eugenia South and colleagues examines whether neighborhoods with greater privilege and more tree cover have less firearm violence across six U.S cities. Why might tree cover be linked to lower violence? Researchers believe that tree cover could reduce stress, mitigate intense summer heat, and encourage positive social engagement which collectively could decrease conflict and violence.  

South and colleagues found that greater neighborhood privilege was strongly linked to lower firearm violence. After accounting for neighborhood privilege, more tree cover was also linked to less violence. Though the authors can’t prove that planting more trees would decrease violence, they estimate that achieving 40% tree cover in the most deprived census tracts could lead to 3.3 fewer shootings over the same time. Ultimately, increasing tree cover has the potential to reduce firearm violence in communities experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage and disinvestment.

Alone, greening neighborhoods cannot wholly disrupt structures of inequality and disparities in gun violence, but it might help mitigate them. Other investments must be made to enhance the benefits of increased tree cover including tree maintenance, fallen leaf removal, and other services, in neighborhoods that are traditionally underserved.

Eugenia South, MD, MSHP

In addition to tree cover efforts, investment in the built environment should be paired with other long-term investments such as:

  1. Improving educational and employment opportunities.
  2. Addressing community trauma using a restorative justice approach.
  3. Curbing police violence exposure, and other dimensions of structural racism.

Projects to test these ideas are underway in a few cities. Just last year, South and LDI Senior Fellow Atheendar Venkataramani were awarded nearly $10 million to study the health effects of investment in Black neighborhoods using evidence-based interventions. While greening efforts alone will not entirely narrow disparities in gun violence and other health outcomes, it has the potential to improve the built environment and drive investment in our nation’s most marginalized communities.

The study, “Neighborhood Segregation, Tree Cover and Firearm Violence in 6 U.S. Cities, 2015–2020,” was published on September 14, 2022 in Preventive Medicine. Authors include Jonathan Jay, Michelle C. Kondo, Vivian H. Lyons, Emma Gause, and Eugenia C. South.


Kaday Kamara

Kaday Kamara

Health Policy Coordinator

Nadiyah Browning

Nadiyah Browning, MPH

Senior Project Coordinator, Strategic Partnerships and Health Policy

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