The value trees offer our cities aren’t just relevant to landscape architects, urban planners, developers and local authorities, they’re of critical importance to urban populations as a whole.
6 benefits of urban trees:
1. AestheticsHumans are drawn to trees. Few things can compare with the visual appeal and seasonal interest they offer. In fact, research shows that trees can even bring down cortisol levels, which means people are less stressed when they’re surrounded by trees. According to UK-based GP and public health expert, William Bird parts of our brains actually change when we connect with nature.
2. Health & WellbeingIt’s a scientific fact that trees filter polluted air, reduce smog formation, provide shade from solar radiation, and give an attractive, calming setting for recreation. As a result, they’ve been proven to have a positive impact on the incidences of skin cancer, asthma, hypertension, and stress-related illnesses. In fact, in areas with more trees, people tend to have less anxiety and depression, with research even indicating that people are less violent when they live near trees. Trees also form an effective sound barrier reducing noise pollution and provide essential natural habitats for birds and squirrels.
3. Air qualityPlanting trees is one of the most cost effective ways of drawing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One large tree can absorb 21.6kg of carbon dioxide a year (through a process called sequestration) and release enough oxygen to support 2 human beings. Trees also work to remove airborne pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates, carbon monoxide, cadmium, nickel, and lead from the air, with research showing a 60% reduction in particulates from exhaust fumes in tree lined streets.
4. FinancialAccording to historian Jill Jones, when the New York City park department measured the economic impact of its trees, the benefits added up to $120m a year. There were $28m worth of energy savings, $5m worth of air quality improvements and $36m of costs avoided in mitigating storm water flooding. While across the megacities of Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Istanbul, London, L.A., Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, and Tokyo an annual median payoff of $505 million was estimated, including $500 000 saved in heating and cooling costs and $8 million in C02 sequestration.
5. Stormwater managementFor every 5% of tree cover, storm water runoff is reduced by 2%. Trees can be essential components to the management of stormwater in urban areas. They direct precipitation into the ground through trunk flow and absorb rainfall through their roots. In fact, a big tree is capable of intercepting 1,432 gallons of water in the course of a year, which reduces topsoil erosion and prevents runoff from reaching watercourses.
6. Cooling effectsDid you know that one mature tree can produce the same cooling effect as 10 room-sized air conditioners? When planted near buildings, trees can cut air conditioning use by 30%; reducing temperatures by between 2°C and 8°C, and, according to the UN Urban Forestry office, reducing heating energy use by a further 20-50%. The shade and water transpiration they provide can also moderate of local climate, resulting in up to 10% savings in local energy consumption. This makes trees a highly effective tool in reducing urban heat islands and hot spots in cities.
All that being said, trees’ benefits are proportional to their size and length of growing season, meaning that ensuring more trees reach maturity is critical to the establishment of an environmentally efficient urban canopy. Ideally, cities should have 40% coverage but trees in urban spaces face a difficult environment with hard paving limiting access to rainfall and reducing the space they need to grow. With a bit of careful urban planning, however, they could be strategically placed in parking lots, pedestrian plazas, or along sidewalks, and you could soon to enjoying the benefits of a greener, happier and healthier city.
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