Trees Benefit Cities Infrastructure
Our Emerald City: The Value of “Green” Communities
By Emily Perry, 2017
We all know the story of Dorothy’s journey to the fictional “Emerald City” in the Wizard of Oz. For most of the story, it’s nothing more than a far off place of mystery and wonder. When the idea of an “Emerald,” green city comes to mind for us at WTI, we picture something a little different. For us, an emerald, “green” city is a healthy city, built with the urban forest as an essential component. This can be accomplished by the strategic planting and care of our trees. Their benefits are wide-ranging and large in scale, making trees an integral component of clean, efficient, and well-managed cities. In truth, trees have utility for cities as a whole, not just the residents who plant them. For example, Worcester can utilize their ability to mitigate the harmful impacts of many climatic and weather events. It has been found that trees greatly diminish the impact of large storms on community infrastructure, as well as keep us cool in the summertime. Even more than this, trees often attract more shoppers to business districts, elevating commercial sales and profit.
There is compelling evidence that the flooding and stormwater mitigation benefits of trees add up as you scale up the urban forest. The growth of the urban forest in Washington, DC prevents more than 1.2 billion gallons of stormwater from entering the sewer system, 10% of the total volume. This saves the city $4.74 billion in “gray infrastructure” (concrete and metal, human-engineered solutions) costs over 30 years. In addition to this, Portland, OR, is saving $64 million on stormwater cleanup by investing in green urban solutions, including planting 4,000 trees. Truly, the more we grow our canopy and urban forest, the cleaner and healthier our waterways will be.
In addition to controlling the effects of large storm events, an increase in tree canopy can greatly reduce urban heat island effect. The EPA defines an urban heat island as a “built up area that is hotter than nearby rural areas.” Thankfully, the sweltering temperatures summers in crowded, congested cities can mitigated by the presence of trees. The canopy of the trees help to block sunlight from surfaces that absorb heat like asphalt and roofs. A mature tree canopy has the capacity to reduce air temperatures by about 5-10° F. Their shade provides a place of retreat and comfort, reduces energy consumption and the need for air conditioning, and makes for easier breathing.
According to the EPA, the increased need for electricity for cooling in Urban Heat Islands leads to a spike in greenhouse gas emissions and ozone levels, pollutants that are extremely harmful to our health. Compromised health conditions are exacerbated by these negative effects and can even lead to hospitalization. A well-maintained urban forest can combat these dangers. A study conducted in California found that fifty million shade trees planted in smart, energy-saving locations could eliminate the need for seven 100-megawatt power plants. In addition to this, the net cooling effect of a healthy, mature shade tree is equal to 10 room-size air conditioners operating for 20 hours a day. To truly reduce the real impact of heat islands, one of the best coolings strategies we could possibly employ here in Worcester is the planting of more trees!
Finally, trees in business districts can promote greater economic activity. High quality landscapes are aesthetically pleasing to shoppers, and it has been found that consumers will travel further to “greener” shopping areas and stay longer. Even more, shoppers will pay higher prices for the products! Rather than simply being an endless sea of cinderblock, a more “natural” shopping atmosphere is often relaxing and fosters stable health and wellbeing.
Here in Worcester, we need to create and maintain our own little “Emerald” city. A greener city provides the infrastructural foundation necessary to keep our communities cleaner, cooler, and ready for business. Trees are dependable investments that provide ever solutions. Anyone who values clean water, breathable air, and a thriving economy also value trees! In one way of another, we’re all “tree” people at heart!
Community Trees: A Living Investment
This 2-minute video from the U.S. Forest Service helps decision makers understand the benefits of community trees so they can make stronger, valid arguments for supporting tree care programs:
This 6-minute video is an extention of the one above: