Designing for Exclusion: Trees and Capitalism

By Christine Carmichael

In this episode, Lillie and I (Dr. Christine Carmichael) delved into how capitalism has shaped urban forests across the U.S. over time—including the ways capitalism has perpetuated exclusion of people and communities with historically limited political power from healthy and sustainable urban trees and green spaces. 

We celebrated Portland, Oregon’s Urban Forest Plan in our segment Throwing Shade, for their efforts to undo exclusionary practices in decision-making processes for the urban forest. To address Portland’s inequitable urban forest, Portland has increased community representation on their citywide urban forestry commission, which oversees management and decision-making of the urban forest. This inclusion can help to ensure that those who have previously been excluded from decision-making can inform the new direction of urban forest management. 

In Getting to the Root of It, we talked about the scam (that’s right—I called capitalism a scam! *Cue gasp*) that white, plantation-owning elites peddled from the time of colonialism onwards to prevent laborers of all races and ethnicities from gaining more wealth and political power of their own. These elites created racism to divide and conquer the laborers who outnumbered them. Basically, it was one of the largest and most egregious cases of gaslighting in history. Oh, white capitalist patriarchy—what’s not to love?  

You can see how this dynamic now creates conflict when wealthy white individuals run non-profit organizations or work for government entities and try to “save” marginalized communities from the problems created by white supremacy in the first place . We’re going to need a lot of group therapy for this stuff, ya’ll. Lillie talked about how she worked in a southern town where white participants asked, “how do we reach out to those people [people of color]? We had an event and they didn’t show up—do those people just not care about the environment?” Listen in for Lillie’s response to this entitlement and “white savior” complex in real life. 

We wrapped with our Fruit for Thought, encouraging listeners to reflect on how we embody the systems of privilege and oppression we were born into, and how we can be more intentionally inclusive moving forward. How have you contributed to or resisted the capitalistic model for managing urban trees? Have you faced any challenges? Tell us by tweeting @Shake_The_Tree_ on Twitter and emailing us at shakethetreepodcast@gmail.com.