Environmental Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas
Most people associate cities with a lack of green space, lots of pollution, and an overall disconnect from nature.
However, cities don’t have to be these rigid, dirty, man-made “concrete jungles.”
In fact, they should resemble the landscape in which they were developed.
Every year, municipalities and urban planners all around the country develop detailed plans to help their communities look and feel closer to the land they’re built on. They do this by strategically incorporating plenty of trees.
Beyond developing the aesthetics and the natural feel of cities, trees can play a crucial role in improving urban sustainability and environmental infrastructure.
There are so many to think of, but we narrowed it down to a handful; here are some of the most important benefits of trees in urban areas!
The most common (and obvious) reason why trees are planted in urban areas is to improve the community’s appearance.
As mentioned before, urban life is often characterized by a lack of green areas. This shouldn’t be the case, and it doesn’t have to be.
Just like the sewers, sidewalks, pipes, and powerlines that keep cities running, trees play their own crucial role in supporting the wellbeing of urban communities.
Even though urban areas by definition don’t have forests in them, the implementation of trees is important to bring life and dynamism to the community around them.
From little community parks to sidewalk trees and bushes, greenery softens up the harsh urban landscape and brings colors and fresh air to the never-ending hustle of urban life.
They help to make people feel grounded, and stand as a constant reminder that there’s purpose and value beyond what we’ve built in our metropolises.
Reduced Air Pollution
Photosynthesis fights pollution; it’s as simple as that!
Trees and plants produce their own sustenance from the carbon dioxide in their environments. They absorb gaseous pollutants through the pores in their leaves and in turn, they replenish the atmosphere with oxygen.
Thanks to this natural process, trees help clean out the air in urban areas where we are constantly exposed to gasses, dust, smoke, and other pollutants.
That’s not a bad deal.
Adding trees to cities helps clean out air pollution and provides a safer and healthier environment for the people around them.
Overall, trees are a cheap, effective, and aesthetically pleasing way to offset the harm that cities can cause to the atmosphere.
Another environmental benefit of trees in urban areas is watersheds. Watersheds are the areas that feed rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water.
Healthy watersheds are crucial to healthy water sources. If a watershed is problematic, it can lead to contaminated drinking water, flooding, and similar problems further downstream for other watersheds.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act requires municipalities to follow regulations and obtain permits for managing their stormwater discharges into water bodies.
As it turns out, trees are really effective for helping make this process cleaner when they’re integrated into cities.
Healthy trees with large leaves and rough surfaces can reduce the amount of runoff and pollutants that end up in water sources.
Trees control runoff at the source by intercepting and storing rainfall, reducing runoff volumes and soil erosion, as well as delaying the onset of peak flows.
This all helps maintain the man-made infrastructure that’s already in place and even makes it more cost-effective.
As researchers Greg McPherson and Jim Geiger wrote in their study, Environmental Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas:
“The watershed benefits of trees exceed the cost of irrigating them. For example, in Glendale, Arizona, a mature mesquite tree intercepts 1,600 gallons of rainwater annually and consumes about 1,100 gallons through irrigation (McPherson et al. 2004). Because the price of irrigation water ($0.0017) is about one-quarter the cost of controlling stormwater ($0.0048), the annual watershed benefit is more than four times greater than the irrigation cost ($7.70 vs. $1.85/tree).”
So, incorporating trees into cities not only reduces runoff and helps keep watersheds clean, it pays for itself.
Often, urban planners and business owners will place trees and bushes around different structures to increase energy efficiency during different seasons.
For example, you might notice that a restaurant has several trees planted around it. While they look beautiful, there is a large chance these trees were strategically planted as a sun-blocking mechanism.
Strategies like these help save energy and money from AC units or other cooling mechanisms. They do this by reducing the solar energy coming in, which would be trapped by the glass windows and stored as heat, similar to a greenhouse.
By blocking out this solar energy using trees, buildings don’t have to use as much power to maintain cool temperatures, similar to keeping your blinds shut during the summer on an extra sunny day.
Trees might also be planted as windbreaks, which can reduce energy consumption during cold months. Windbreaks reduce wind speed, helping to control the “wind chill” temperatures, leading to energy savings when heating units don’t have to work as hard.
Beyond saving energy, these windbreaks serve as a comfort-improvement device for city-goers. They can help reduce wind tunnels that can form in streets and courtyards, keeping residents sheltered from gusts.
Wildlife and Plant Diversity
Fostering biodiversity isn’t just important for beauty and enjoyment, it’s crucial for our planet’s health.
Incorporating trees and plants helps build and create more diverse and well-preserved wildlife in urban areas.
For example, small urban parks, home to lots of trees, provide significant habitats for local and migratory birds.
These areas provide food and shelter for other smaller animals and birds that might be around the area, that without this greenery, would die.
Conclusion: How CHOP Can Help
Urban trees are important not only for aesthetics, but also for the well-being, energy efficiency, and biodiversity of urban communities.
That’s why we are proud to work with municipalities every year to provide the best care possible for urban trees around West Michigan.
At CHOP, every person who works directly with trees is a certified arborist.
You can rest assured our team has deep, up-to-date knowledge of tree species, tree anatomy, behavior patterns, health, and best practices, and technology for tree maintenance to assist with any problem or project.
From sidewalk and street cleaning to tree trimming and removal, we offer a special array of options to keep trees and greenery strong and healthy.
We’ll listen to your needs, and based on our experience, we will construct a personalized plan for executing your needs when you need them, within your budget, and with unmatched precision.