Local Environmental Leaders Elaborate on the Importance of Addressing Sustainability and Socioeconomic Disparity


By Pavan Potti

On May 23, the City Desk for the Vanguard at UC Davis hosted a webinar to engage in discussion related to climate change, socioeconomic disparities in tree cover and sustainability. 

Panelists for the webinar included economist and former City Council candidate Kelsey Fortune and Tree Commission Chair and Tree Davis board member Larry Guenther. 

The first question asked the panelists whether they believed socioeconomic disparity existed in Davis in relation to who has tree and shade cover access. 

Guenther answered that there are definitely areas that have more trees within the city compared to others. He stated how Tree Davis is currently working with the city on a Grant Community Canopy, which aims at planting 1000 trees in Davis while also visiting underserved neighborhoods. 

The next question asked how green spaces and sustainable housing practices could be incorporated and what building codes favor green technology. 

Fortune claimed that while tree cover is an important source of shade, buildings that are built taller and closer to the sidewalk are also important sources of shade. Fortune also added how narrow streets and closer multi-floored buildings would allow for the sun to not reach the ground, maintaining a cool atmosphere. Referencing building structures in Spain, Fortune called for the city to observe more of the urban planning in cities with similar circumstances as Davis, just to get a sense of what is required. 

Guenther added how building densely needs to be complimented by having goods and services spread throughout the city, with neighborhoods each having their own close-by centers for goods and services. Guenther stated how having businesses in walkable distances would not only be healthier for the community but also would be convenient for people living next to these businesses due to close proximity and low disturbance. 

The next question served as a follow up question, asking panelists how they would balance having buildings built close to each other with the consequent lack of privacy. 

Fortune stated how Davis would continue to have single-family houses with private backyards for those who would prefer to keep their privacy. However, Fortune claimed that having the ability to try living in close proximity buildings would be an important cultural shift that offers the benefits of building a tight knight community. 

Guenther further added that privacy is still possible for families living in close spaces when they construct boundaries. Guenther also added that living in private spaces has induced a strong sense of rugged individualism which plays a huge role in building our identities but does more harm to the concept of community and togetherness. 

The panelists were then asked whether there are people or groups that get shut out of the environment conversation and how the City can make unheard voices heard.

Fortune answered by stating how the City doesn’t engage much with renters, despite consisting of 60 percent renters. Though the city seeks public engagement, Fortune also emphasized how having biased opinions doesn’t help the problem. Until the voices of renters are more heard, Fortune believes that there is a divide between Davis citizens and those who are living in Davis on rent. 

The next question asked panelists what they believe to be the major problems in the city in regards to environmental racism and classism. 

Fortune listed how the City needs to do a better job of engaging with property owners who are renting as there is a clear misinterpretation in high cost environmental solutions. Fortune added how the lack of engagement with lower income citizens of Davis would only create further problems when environmental solutions,which wouldn’t necessarily benefit lower income citizens, are implemented, leaving a group of the city to be disadvantaged. 

Guenther stated that while environmental equity within the city may not increase broadly at once, where there is a will there’s a way. Whether it’s affordable housing or any other matters of equity, Guenther stated how there needs to be a sincere effort to create change, and whether or not these efforts are truly impactful becomes evident very clearly. Being inclusive in environmentalism means getting information from wide socioeconomic backgrounds so that change within the city is meant to reflect positive change for the city as a whole. 

The webinar then proceeded to ask audience questions. The first audience question asked for comments regarding the City’s lack of enforcement of current tree land that requires 50 percent parking lot shade. 

Guenther responded how ordinances hold no significance if they don’t have solid codes and lack of enforcements. Guenther stated that the Tree Commission is currently undergoing a process of reviewing the Tree Ordinances in relation to parking lot trees in efforts to make existing codes clearer. Guenther lastly added that parking lots are closely related to changes in methods of transportation, which essentially means getting more people out of their cars. 

The next audience question focused on close-proximity housing and how people living in dense housing could still enjoy the beauty of the night sky. 

To this question, both panelists suggested that going out of town would be a solid option for those living in dense areas if they so choose to. Close buildings combined with narrow roads and street lights bring less of the night sky, meaning that observation would require going to an area where there is more viewing space. 

The last question from the audience asked panelists how the City can be fair while building better places. 

To this question, Fortune claimed how the areas in which density has been increasing have all been towards the edge of town and away from the downtown and campus areas. Whether or not density in the edge of the city proves to be beneficial or not, Fortune emphasized the need for a culture shift which is needed to bring people out of their cars and in walking distances of goods and services. 

Additionally, Guenther elaborated on the possibility of building multiple downtowns within the city, simply because one downtown can’t support the shopping needs for the whole city. By having multiple downtowns, Guenther envisioned multiple centers for goods and services within the city, each providing these services to finite localities based on the needs of the respective dense areas. 

Pavan is a third year student studying Economics from Fremont, California.


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7 thoughts on “Local Environmental Leaders Elaborate on the Importance of Addressing Sustainability and Socioeconomic Disparity”

  1. Ron Glick

    This is a silly conversation. The largest causes of poverty and  inequality are wage and housing inequities. Davis is a case study in how exclusionary housing policies over generations perpetuate these inequities. What is sustainable besides poverty when rents are so high they keep people in poverty or drive them into debt? If this was a serious conversation that is what it would be addressing.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Ron G… fully agree with first sentence… as to the rest, I believe it should be ‘tempered’ with inertia, and a lack of awareness of anyone but one’s self, based on their experiences… not deliberate malevolence…

      Historically, people were brought up assuming they’d experience what their parents experienced… except for the families or individuals who were ‘aspirational’… and ‘changed the channel’… my grandparents finished HS… my parents’ generation started to have kids in college, but uneven… my generation more predominantly had more college graduates… the next generation had more college graduates, some getting advanced degrees… it was the ‘aspirational’ families/individuals that modified the trajectory from  inertia to progress…

      Same, financially… for example, my parents (except in later years) had two forms of ‘investment’… house and savings account (‘passbook’)… and Dad had a pension… my generation either had pensions, and/or invested in stocks (usually in Mutual funds) and using 401/403/457 and trad/Roth IRA’s… our kids are following suit… well on their way to financial security…

      I know of other families who were not aspirational… they followed inertia, and basically mimic their parents/grandparents results…

      Trees and transit had no credible affect/effect on the trajectories… so that is ‘silly’… both are important in and of themselves (and should be valued), but not predominant, by far, as to “poverty and wealth inequities”.

      It is true some were born with a “silver spoon”… others, all races, were aspirational, and found, mined the raw ore, learned to refine it, and learned how to craft one… and probably were so busy doing that, that they assumed all others would do the same thing, and were oblivious to various impediments others faced… including not being aspirational… not deliberately trying to place impediments in the way of others.

    2. David Greenwald

      You asserted this point Ron Glick, so I was curious to look at at the research.

      One point that was very striking: “No comprehensive evidence enabling assignment of responsibility to various causes.”

      Moreover, people’s views are mixed heavily with their political values.

      But the institute for Research on poverty has these:

      Causes of Poverty
      •Labor market issues
      •Demographic Characteristics: Age and Family Structure
      •Poverty-related Policies
      •Cultural Factors

      1. Bill Marshall

        Demographic Characteristics: Age and Family Structure

        Cultural Factors

        The two are not the same, but (excusing the pun) “inter-related”… ‘family’ is a huge influence on ‘culture’…

      2. Ron Glick

        These causes of poverty are general. If you look at California or Davis specifically a different picture emerges. It is a picture of low wages and high rents keeping people in poverty. And in Davis don’t forget student loans deferring poverty through debt. It is a picture of previous generational housing segregation reducing the transfer of intergenerational wealth and now of supply restrictions driving up housing costs to unsustainable levels.

        A relevant discussion of sustainability would address these issues rather than the distribution of tree cover.

  2. Ron Oertel

    I’d like to know what any of the environmental groups (or the state) are doing about this, which seems to be the opposite of what the state is pushing (and what YIMBY-type groups “claim” to push).  Millenials are abandoning expensive areas due to a combination of high prices, ability to telecommute and “aging-into” a time in their lives when city life is no longer as appealing.

    Just as notable as the level of new construction is where it is taking place. From the mountains of central Pennsylvania to the one-stoplight towns beyond Houston’s endless expanse to California’s San Joaquin Valley, developers are racing to build homes in areas that buyers used to judge beyond the outer limits of an acceptable commute.

    Now, after a year of lockdowns and a push to continue working from home even as the pandemic wanes, the preference for closer-in living has weakened. This has helped unleash a wave of home building.
    Would-be homeowners are flocking to the new farthest exurbs, where home builders can meet demand — and together they are again stretching the boundaries of a city and its surrounding sprawl.

    “People can move to where it’s more affordable,” said John Burns, chief executive of John Burns Real Estate Consulting. “This is a permanent game changer in the housing market.”

    House Hunters Are Leaving the City, and Builders Can’t Keep Up (msn.com)

    The article tells the story of one couple attempting to purchase in a master-planned community in Lathrop (south of Stockton).

    Turns out that sprawl is alive and perhaps stronger than ever.

    1. Ron Oertel

      As the numbered bingo balls were put in six buckets, each representing an empty lot where a home would be built, Mrs. Namayan took a tally and found that 17 families were vying for the place she and her husband wanted. The saleswoman put her hand in the bucket, swirled around and emerged with the number 32.

      “I put my head on Jez’s shoulder, and we just started crying,” Mr. Namayan said.

      I’d probably cry too, as a result of winning that particular lottery.  🙂

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