Better Living through Forestry

New studies show trees make city dwellers happier and healthier, yet we're cutting them down as fast as we can

| October 23, 2003

A recent University of Illinois study found that apartment residents who lived close to trees and flowers 'had better relations with their neighbors, felt a stronger sense of community, and experienced less violence in their homes,' reports Chris Boykin of Sierra magazine. And yet, the findings of a different study, commissioned by the conservation group American Forests, indicate urban forests have declined by 20 percent over the past 10 years. The loss is largely due to urban sprawl and the construction of new roads.

The disappearance of urban forests is disturbing because of the myriad benefits trees offer to city residents. One acre of trees can both create enough oxygen for 18 people and absorb the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a car traveling 26,000 miles. As windbreakers, trees can reduce individual heating costs by 30 percent, and as shade producers, trees lessen air conditioning needs. Trees also reduce storm water run-off by as much as 20 percent. Commercial districts with trees draw more consumers and tourists, and forested areas 100 feet wide and 45 feet tall can cut noise pollution by 50 percent. Remarkably, a study by Texas A&M University found that surgery patients recover more quickly when their hospital windows offer green views.

Given the immense decline of urban forests and the corresponding loss in arboreal benefits, the American Forests' study recommends an urban forest Marshall Plan: Cities should plant 1.7 billion trees nationwide over the next decade. According to the Environmental News Network, if planners endeavor to reach the 1.7 billion mark, roughly 10 percent of the lost urban canopy will be restored. Given the perks -- psychological, environmental, and economic -- of trees, it seems that we ought to be seeing more tree-huggers among urban planners.
-- Erica Wetter

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