Go Hug a (Street) Tree
Street Tree: a tree located within the public right-of-way, typically planted between the sidewalk and the street.
I always loved the wise old maple tree in front of my childhood home. It towered over our rooftop and enveloped most of the western portion of the property like a big green giant. In the summer it provided shady places to play, in the winter it was home to our hibernating squirrel friends, and in the spring and fall months it shielded us from gusty lake effect storms.
I’m not the only urban planner singing the praises of street trees just like the one I grew up alongside, but many people didn’t grow up with street trees. The following highlights three of my favorite street tree benefits for both the head and the heart.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to invest in street trees from a logical perspective would be the economic benefits from increased property values. Not only do street trees provide tremendous value per dollar invested, but their benefits and value increase as they mature and expand their canopies. Having mature street trees in front of a home or business significantly increases property values. Worried about the additional maintenance? Well, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that street trees provide an annual property tax to maintenance cost payoff of twelve to one.
Shade provided by mature deciduous trees reduces the need for air conditioning in summer months, while also allowing sunlight to reach exterior walls and windows during winter. This means trees both cool and heat a building which lowers energy costs. At the citywide scale, a well-forested city reduces its urban heat island effect and mitigates some of the damaging impacts of climate change at the local level. Additionally, the shade provided by street trees increases the lifespan of asphalt roads by 40 to 60 percent. Therefore, cities with healthy urban forests spend less on energy and road repairs.
Street trees are a proven traffic calming tactic and can be an important tool in reducing car dependency. Numerous studies show that vehicles traveling on roads with street trees drive slower and more cautiously. Reduced speeds lead to fewer severe crashes. Trees also create a protective barrier between cars and pedestrians on the sidewalk, like safety bollards. Studies have even shown that neighborhoods with more street trees experience lower rates of crime.
By nature, trees inhale carbon dioxide and exhale clean oxygen for us to breath. This process also removes pollutants that are toxic to us and damaging to the planet’s ozone layer. This air-cleansing process is indispensable to our fight against climate change.
Trees are also crucial elements of green infrastructure that help prevent flooding through a process called bioretainment. A single street tree has the capacity to reduce stormwater runoff by 4,000 gallons per year.
Street trees are beautiful. A row of majestic street trees simultaneously evokes a sense of order and unity among neighbors while also infusing varieties of natural elements and wind-driven movement to otherwise overbearingly bleak and static manmade environments. Street trees help provide a much-desired connection between urban dwellers and the native ecosystems their cities occupy.
Perhaps this explains why so many studies link trees to improved health. One study found that children who live in neighborhoods with more street trees are less likely to develop asthma when they get older, while another study linked trees to faster hospital patient recovery times, reduced stress levels, and lower blood pressure. Trees have even been found to encourage people to exercise. Additionally, trees diminish the effects of harsh winds and reduce stress-inducing noise pollution through a phenomenon called sound attenuation.
The Schreifer Group Advocates for Street Trees
Whether you’re motivated by sensibility, safety, serenity, or some combination of the three, street trees make sense no matter how you look at them. Master planners at The Schreifer Group focus on improving the quality of life for our servicemembers and their families. We do this in part by advocating for street trees whenever possible.
So, let’s fight to replant our diminished urban forests with new street trees, and next time you’re out for a walk, take a deep breath of fresh air and go hug a street tree.
1. Well, Gail and Geoffery Donovan. Calculating the green in green: What's an urban tree worth? Science Findings. United States Department of Agriculture (2010). https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/50539
2. Center for Urban Forest Research. Why Shade Streets – the unexpected benefit. https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/topics/urban_forestry/products/cufr_673_WhyShadeStreets_10-06.pdf
3. Gilstad-Hayden, Kathryn, et al. Greater tree canopy cover is associated with lower rates of both violent and property crime in New Haven, CT. Landscape and Urban Planning (2015). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169204615001607
4. Center for Urban Forest Research. Is all your rain going down the drain?https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/topics/urban_forestry/products/cufr_392_rain_down_the_drain.pdf
5. Lovasi, Gina, James Quinn, Kathryn Neckerman, Matthew Perzanowski, and Andrew Rundle. Children living in areas with more street trees have lower asthma prevalence. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2008)
6. R.S. Ulrich, et al. View Through a Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery. Science (1984)
7. Naderi, J.R., and J.H. Kim. Reconceiving Typical Standards for Public Space: Implementing Enhanced Walking Environments for Children. University of British Columbia (2006)
8. US Department of Agriculture. How does vegetation help reduce noise pollution in urban ecosystems? (2019)