Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Healthy Trees Are Key to Vibrant Communities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Healthy Trees Are Key to Vibrant Communities

Article excerpt

Go to any city park, and what will you see? If it's in a neighborhood with young families, no doubt there will be lots of kids running around and playing. Across town, elderly residents may be taking a stroll or playing chess or checkers. Others might be enjoying an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy day or cooking out on a warm summer evening. Whether for recreation, relaxation or just gathering with friends, parks meet different needs in different communities.

But one thing most parks have in common--from a pocket park tightly packed between row houses to an Olmsted expanse in a central city--is trees. Just as well-built and well-tended parks are the key to any great city, healthy and abundant trees are the key to great parks.

Most people intuitively understand this, but thanks to the work of a national task force, we now have a better understanding of the full value of trees, plus a communications and policy blueprint that helps explain their value to communities and transforms the way we think about them.

The Vibrant Cities and Urban Forests Task Force was convened by New York Restoration Project with support from the USDA Forest Service. The task force consisted of 25 national experts representing fields such as urban forestry, urban planning, landscape architecture and community organizing, and its diverse membership ranged from government officials to business leaders.

These experts examined all the factors that make a community a vibrant place to live and developed strategies that a city of any size could adopt for getting there. The final report, Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests: A National Call to Action, outlined 12 specific recommendations for growing better, healthier communities through a renewed commitment to our urban forests.

For parks, along with the people who love them and the professionals who manage them, the report could be summed up as a call to focus on the fundamentals: Parks are first and foremost dynamic ecosystems, built predominantly around healthy trees. The report makes clear that this approach is not only right for parks, but prioritizing the role of trees also has a positive ripple effect throughout entire communities.

Trees can reduce energy consumption and promote conservation by helping to cool homes and businesses on hot days. According to joint studies by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, trees planted to shade the windows of a home can generate energy savings of up to 47 percent (Heat Islands).

Trees have a known and quantifiable positive effect on both the causes and impacts of climate change. A single tree stores an average of 13 pounds of carbon each year, and community forests currently provide the equivalent of $22 billion in carbon control costs (Identified Benefits). Trees naturally reduce flooding and help keep pollutants out of our waterways, which decreases the need for costly treatment facilities.

Inviting open spaces like parks also help keep people healthy. A community designed with sidewalks and accessible green space has a dramatically positive impact on the amount of physical activity people incorporate into their daily lives. Investing in tree-filled public spaces is an investment in public health (A Bridge to Planners). …

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