CommonWealth Magazine: “Urban greenery can bring better health, more attractive neighborhoods, and even safer streets”

Urban greenery gets some love in the Summer 2008 issue of CommonWealth Magazine…

Seeing the forest and the trees

…Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Urban Forest Coalition announced last year that they intended to plant 100,000 new trees by 2020, increasing the city’s tree canopy to 35 percent [from 29 percent currently]…

[A survey discovered that] many of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods suffered from reduced tree canopy…

The US Forest Service has found that a single mature urban tree, properly situated, reduces the heating and cooling costs (and attendant energy use and climate emissions) of an urban dwelling by 15 percent to 30 percent by blocking icy winds in the winter and providing shade in the summer.

…Boston’s existing tree cover captures 42 million cubic feet of storm water per year that would otherwise run into the sewer system. It would cost the city and its taxpayers more than $142 million to build a system to manage that extra storm water.

…During photosynthesis (the process of transforming sunlight into energy), trees literally bring air in through their leaves and, in the process, absorb pollutants. Particulate pollutants also adhere to the leaves of most trees. According to the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 100 mature trees remove five tons of carbon dioxide and more than 1,000 pounds of other air pollutants each year…

A US Forest Service study suggests that a front yard tree can add 1 percent to the sale price of a home, and that large specimen trees can add 10 percent to the value of a home…

[A study in Baltimore by Morgan Grove of the US Forest Service] found that neighborhoods with higher tree cover had stronger social connections, and residents had a significantly lower desire to move away, presumably because trees increase the attractiveness of the area.

A landmark Harvard University study of a dozen Chicago neighborhoods found only one variable that explained lower crime rates in otherwise virtually identical communities: the extent of social cohesion…

See also:

New York Times: “Advocating an Unusual role for Trees” (8/11/08)
Trees…absorb pollutants from the ground, comb particulates from the air and house beneficial insects…

…A recent study by researchers at Columbia found that children in neighborhoods that are tree-lined have asthma rates a quarter less than in neighborhoods without trees… Trees are also used to remove mercury and other pollutants from the ground, something called phytoremediation. And, of course, trees store carbon dioxide, which mitigates global warming.

Books & Culture: “The Life of Trees” (July/August 2008)
…[The British] live on an island which was once heavily forested, and retains many ancient and beautiful trees, but which people over the centuries have transformed into field and pasture and meadow. Looking at the forbidding moors of Scotland one can scarcely believe that most of that country was once densely forested; yet it is so. And the trees are missing simply because humans cut them down. So some Scots are taking pains to restore at least some of the ancient Caledonian pines; and old trees there are revered…

…much of our knowledge about trees is of recent vintage, and there is still a great deal about these creatures that we do not know…

The practice of planting trees in European cities only began to grow once cities got larger and the countryside grew correspondingly more distant. In the 17th century the great diarist, gardener, and arboriphile John Evelyn visited Antwerp, whose leaders had, half-a-century earlier, planted trees along the whole length of the elevated city walls. “There was nothing about this City,” Evelyn rhapsodized, “which more ravished me than those delicious shades and walks of stately Trees, which render the incomparably fortified Works of the Town one of the sweetest places in Europe.”

…By the nineteenth century it had been agreed, in most cities of the world, that trees are both beautiful and health-giving, and that therefore trees should be planted anywhere in our cities where it is possible to plant them. As we still do…

USA Today: “Push for urban parkland takes root” (4/13/08)
It is spurred by several factors, including mounting environmental
concerns, improved property values for park-side real estate, increased
demand for green space from health-conscious people moving back to
cities and a greater availability of vacant industrial land…

MA Secy of Energy and Environmental Affairs: Urban Parks Deserve Protection as do Habitat Reserves and Working Landscapes
[Ian Bowles:] We need smart land conservation along with smart growth. That’s why,
going forward, the commonwealth is going to concentrate its land
protection efforts on three priorities, which complement the
administration’s smart-growth goals:

  • Urban Parks: For smart growth to succeed, urban life needs to be
    attractive. From a land perspective, the best thing we can do to
    improve urban living is to make sure there are beautiful parks within
    walking distance of every urban dweller. So we plan to create visionary
    urban parks in 10 to 15 cities in neighborhoods that don’t have them,
    and to significantly [improve] parks in all 51 Massachusetts cities
    over the next four years…

Gazette: “Waste places: They may be more than meets the eye” (8/9/08)
Beauty can be found anywhere and though we cannot breathe it, eat it,
or otherwise sustain our bodies with it, beauty does help to sustain
our souls and imaginations.

Gazette: “Public should be consulted before old trees are removed” (7/3/08)
Alexandra Dawson writes:
…cemeteries today serve a number of purposes – visitation, history, beauty, respect for the dead – not all of which are directly related to burial practices. Furthermore, they are public spaces, like parks; and the public has a sense of ownership that does not depend on whether family members are interred there. Trees that are unhealthy or directly interfere with graves should be removed, but shade is precious in a farm town with so few groves.

Furthermore, the public is used to being consulted about decisions about public spaces…

Text of Springfield’s Ordinance to Protect “Significant Trees”
Springfield has an ordinance that protects trees that are 75+ years old
or 3+ feet in diameter. Such trees may be cut down only if they are
diseased or damaged, or if the person who wants to cut it down can
prove hardship in excess of the public’s interest in preserving the

NSNA Petition Signature Total Vaults Over 3,000 (10/4/07)
Not only is respect for trees and wetlands
scientifically sound, it’s extremely popular. As of today, the North
Street Neighborhood Association’s petition has garnered 3,174
signatures, including 2,010 from residents of Northampton. The petitions began circulating on July 21. They call upon Mayor Clare Higgins and the Northampton City Council to:

1) Pass an ordinance to protect “significant trees”
that all “significant trees”, whether on public or private land, may
not be cut down in whole or substantial part without permission from
the Northampton Tree Committee or other appropriate official body. A
significant tree is one which is 75 years old or older, or is 3 or more
feet in diameter at chest height. The Tree Committee would take into
account whether the tree is diseased, damaged, or poses a danger to
people or property, and whether not taking action on the tree would
impose a hardship on the property owner that exceeds the public’s
interest in preserving the tree…

Photo Essay: 10 Reasons People Like Trees Around Them; Will the Sustainable Northampton Plan
Put Urban Trees at Risk?

…trees around homes in Northampton’s built-up areas (where perhaps half
the population lives) may be threatened by proposals in the Sustainable Northampton Plan,
which encourages city officials to “implement ideas for maximizing
density on small lots” (p.14) and “consider amending zero lot line
single family home to eliminate 30′ side yard setback” (p.67).

you walk down North Street, imagine most trees between houses gone and
replaced with a near-solid wall of housing. See the articles below, and
decide if that’s growth that’s smart, or growth that smarts…

“Planning for Trees” by Henry Arnold, Planning Commissioners Journal, January/February 1992
recent survey by the American Forestry Association of twenty American
cities found that, on average, only one tree is planted for every four

Our urban centers need to become more attractive to
help counter the continuation of a sprawl pattern of development. If
the appeal of low density, widely scattered development is derived from
the need to be closer to nature, then making trees an integral part of
the urban habitat will help make our town and city centers more
desirable places to live and work. It is profoundly important to see
this linkage between making cities and towns more “liveable” and
stemming the continued spread of scattered development across the

“Growing Greener: Conservation Subdivision Design” by Randall Arendt, Planning Commissioners Journal, Winter 1999
national survey of homebuyers conducted in 1994 by American Lives
revealed that of 39 features critical to their choice, homebuyers
ranked “lots of natural open space” and plenty of “walking and biking
paths” as the third and fourth highest rated factors affecting their

Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
presence of natural elements has several implications for personal and
community security. Shared green spaces, particularly those with trees,
provide settings for people to interact and strengthen social ties.
Residential areas with green surroundings are associated with greater
social cohesion in neighborhoods, and neighbors with stronger social
ties are more likely to monitor local activity, intervene if problem
behaviors occur,[48] and defend their neighborhoods against crime.[49]
Residents of buildings with greater tree and grass cover report fewer
incidences of vandalism, graffiti, and litter than counterparts in more
barren buildings.[50] Likewise, a study comparing police reports of
crime and extent of tree and grass cover found that the greener a
building’s surroundings, the fewer total crimes were reported.[51]

Downtown house on “dead end street” in “rural setting” flies off market
are excellent reasons for many homebuyers to desire cul-de-sacs and
leafy neighborhoods. Planners who ignore these strong (and logical)
market preferences risk making sprawl worse, as some buyers may come to
avoid downtown Northampton and seek these amenities in the outskirts or
even out of town.

Rutherford Platt, “Regreening the Metropolis: Pathways to More
Ecological Cities”

In the 1950s, the conventional wisdom–for the affluent at least–was
that cities are where people are, and the country is where you go on
weekends and vacations to find Nature in some place bucolic or
maritime. But today, even for those who can afford it, the time and
cost of escaping the metropolis has grown with the spread of the
metropolis itself and the growing numbers of vehicles trying to leave
it… Meanwhile, those who cannot afford to sit in traffic in their
SUV–the poor, the elderly, the infirm–are sentenced to live out their
lives in the metropolitan environment, come what may…

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space” The Breath of Trees Is Good for You

Scientists Assist Efforts to Build Urban Tree Canopy