Trees are Vital to City Life
Two of my favourite trees in my neighbourhood
Lately I’ve become fascinated with trees and their role in urban life. I live in a neighbourhood where every street is lined with big beautiful trees. They provide shelter from winter rain and shade from summer heat, reflect sunshine off their lush green leaves and some even bloom with pink cherry blossoms in the spring.
I’ve always taken them for granted as just there and never really appreciated how trees positively impact city life. Dan Burden found 22 benefits to be exact, in his piece, 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees (I could list a few, but I am going to list almost all of them, because I love trees that much!). According to Burden, street trees:
- Create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds.
- Increase customer traffic to businesses.
- Separate motorists from pedestrians, leading to safer walking environments.
- Reduce the impact of harmful automobile emissions.
- Provide rain, sun, heat and skin protection.
- Convert harmful gasses back into oxygen and other useful and natural gasses.
- Lower air temperatures.
- Require less drainage infrastructure.
- Convert streets, parking and walls into more aesthetically pleasing environments.
- Soften and screen necessary street features such as utility poles, light poles and other needed street furniture.
- Reduce blood pressure, improved overall emotional and psychological health.
- Reduce road rage.
- Increase security and according to another study, reduce crime.
- Provide a lawn for a splash and spray zone, storage of snow, driveway elevation transition and more.
- Contribute to longer pavement life.
- Enhance our connection to nature and the human senses.
The last benefit - enhancing our connection to nature and the human senses - stands alone as the only true reason to plant trees. According to Burden:
Urban street trees provide a canopy, root structure and setting for important insect and bacterial life below the surface; at grade for pets and romantic people to pause for what pets and romantic people pause for; they act as essential lofty environments for song birds, seeds, nuts, squirrels and other urban life. Indeed, street trees so well establish natural and comfortable urban life it is unlikely we will ever see any advertisement for any marketed urban product, including cars, to be featured without street trees making the ultimate dominant, bold visual statement about place.
When I am walking through my neighbourhood, or anywhere in the city, I often find myself looking at the trees because they offer a sense of calm and a stronger connection to nature and universal life (I highly recommend it when you are stressed out - turn down the volume on your thoughts and look at the trees - it works!).
I’ve seen a family of raccoons staring down at me from a tree one morning walking home from the gym, a sleeping baby owl, and eagles’ nests in the trees while on sunny afternoon runs in Kitsilano and around UBC. Just recently on a Friday evening when my husband ran into a London Drugs in the Downtown Eastside, I stayed in our parked car and was mesmerized by a bustling ant colony crawling from the cracked pavement all the way up to the top of a skinny street tree - all the while inebriated people walked by totally oblivious to this little nature party happening in the heart of downtown Vancouver.
Thankfully, there are more trees in our future. The City of Vancouver recently announced that over the next few years, they are developing an urban forest management plan that begins with planting 150,000 trees by 2020. The more city trees, the better for all of us.
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