Trees Please

“The story is the same in nearly every city across the United States. With few exceptions, trees are sparse in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and more prominent in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. Redlining policies, dating back to the 1930s, laid the groundwork for this inequity.”

                                                ~ American Forests

Sitting on our patio, I relished the soft breeze in the shade of the nearby green ash tree, listened to the birds gossiping away and watched the squirrels try to outwit our dog. Life is good.

Lots of studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of nature — and trees in particular — on us humans. Obviously, we get all that free oxygen, and trees contribute to cleaner air and cooler places. However, one of my most treasured effects is the calming and soothing I get from time among trees.

Oh, sure, I can get a similar effect when gardening or walking among flower beds and shrubbery, but for relaxation, trees seem to top everything else. It seems to me that you can tell a lot about a place by its greenery. If there’s more green around, people seem more relaxed, more rational and friendlier. On the other hand, a lack of greenery makes a place feel stark, cold, and unfriendly. The people also seem more stressed, less friendly and the place fells less like a community.

American Forests describes, the “many life-saving and quality of life benefits — such as reduced heat-related illnesses and more jobs — that trees provide people.” It’s the quality of life that greenery or nature improves.

They have actually come up with a system to measure the “tree equity” of neighborhoods. “Each score indicates whether there are enough trees for everyone to experience the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide. The scores are based on how much tree canopy and surface temperature align with income, employment, race, age and health factors”.

“With the knowledge the score provides, community leaders, tree advocates and residents alike can address climate change and public health through the lens of social equity, attract new resources, factor the scores into technical decisions and track progress toward achieving Tree Equity … It provides a social-equity-focused narrative, goals and a guide path for building understanding, commitment and action about Tree Equity; and It incorporates the value of maintaining and protecting existing trees so that new trees are additive.”

Researcher Elizabeth Hewitt notes that it doesn’t take a big forest to make a difference, “Community forests the size of a basketball court can make an outsized difference, providing shade, attracting plants and animals, and even storing a bit of carbon.”

“In Europe, India, and other countries, communities are creating small-footprint, native forests as hyperlocal responses to large-scale environmental challenges. The forests attract biodiversity, including insects and new plant species, data released in April shows. And while even proponents say they won’t solve climate change by themselves, research shows these small patches of nature can contribute to carbon sequestration and help cities adapt to rising temperatures.”

She notes, “Meanwhile, the popularity of miniature forests continues to grow.”

Tiny forests are cropping up along with pocket parks, and parklets that replace parking spaces in many communities. Downtown skyscrapers are adding greenery to plazas and atriums to mitigate the harsh nature of all the steel and concrete. Green walls festooned with plants inside and outside of tall buildings have been designed to provide all the benefits of trees, including cleaner air, less noise, calming effects and softer, more natural surroundings. 

Hewitt reports, “Jeroen Schenkels, a senior advisor for the city of Utrecht on green planning, said he sees the mini forests as nature-based solutions that can help the city weather heat waves and improve water retention. But one of the biggest values is social.

“’One of the most important things is that you give people the opportunity to be involved in nature in the neighborhood,’ Schenkels said.”

From our patio, I can see the clover- and dandelion-infested lawn, the various trees, both young and old, and the vegetable garden boxes and flower beds. It doesn’t take much convincing for me to decide to stay in my chair, sip some iced tea, watch the squirrels and listen to the birds. I’ll get to those weeds and the mowing and trimming later on. Maybe tomorrow.

Additional Information:

American Forests, Tree Equity Score, 6/2021, www.americanforests.org

Elizabeth Hewitt, Why ‘Tiny Forests’ Are Popping Up In Big Cities, June 22, 2021, National Geographic

Steve Tarlton, Can’t See the Forest For the Woods, May 20, 2021, Writes of Nature

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