How Urban Forests Add To Cities’ Health And Wealth

How Urban Forests Add To Cities’ Health And Wealth
Pet animal cemetery in a Russian urban forest. Image: By AVRS, via Wikimedia Commons

Planting more urban forests is a simple way not only to improve the health of a city’s people, but to make them wealthier too.

Climate scientists who calculated the value of urban forests to the world’s great cities have now worked out how town planners can almost double their money. Just plant 20% more trees.

More than half the world now lives in cities, and one person in 10 lives in a megacity: one that is home to at least 10 million people.

The trees that shade the parks and gardens and line the urban streets – London planes, limes, magnolias, pines and so on – are known to add to property values and to make living conditions better for millions who must endure the increasing heat extremes of the urban world.

Last year researchers put a value on the contributions of the urban forest: $500 million to the average megacity, they calculated, in pollution absorbed, temperatures lowered and moisture taken up.

More needed

Now Theodore Endreny, professor of environmental resources engineering at the State University of New York, and colleagues from Parthenope University in Naples, Italy, report in the journal Ecological Modelling that there is more to be done.

Tree canopies already cover 20% of the area of their 10 sample megacities in five continents. They looked at their models of tree cover, human population, air pollution, energy use, climate and spending power and found room for improvement: the same cities could find room for 20% more forest.

“By cultivating the trees within the city, residents and visitors get direct benefits,” Professor Endreny said. “They’re getting an immediate cleansing of the air that’s around them.

“They’re getting that direct cooling from the trees, and even food and other products. There’s potential to increase the coverage of urban forests in our megacities, and that would make them more sustainable, better places to live.”

“While nature provides a bounty of essential goods and services, such as food, flood protection and many more, it also has rich social, cultural, spiritual and religious significance”

Cities are afflicted by the notorious heat island effect, and climate scientists have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat and humidity could rise to potentially lethal levels in many of the world’s great cities.

The latest study is part of a wider shift in approach by urban planners and civic authorities to seek ways to mitigate the climate change driven by ever more profligate consumption of fossil fuels, without actually adding to this consumption by installing ever more air conditioning plant.

And on the same day, a second team of scientists emphasised the same conclusion: work with nature to confront climate change and improve the lives of people in the developing world, put at risk by climate change driven in part by the despoliation of the forests and the degradation of the land.

They argue in the journal Science that a better understanding of the way nature – in the form of forests, wetlands, savannahs and all the creatures that depend on the natural world – underwrites human wellbeing should inform political and economic decisions.

Local knowledge

In many cases, this would involve attending to the wisdom and experience of local communities and indigenous people who depend more directly on nature’s riches.

“Nature’s contributions to people are of critical importance to rich and poor in developed and developing countries alike. Nature underpins every person’s wellbeing and ambitions – from health and happiness to prosperity and security.

“People need to better understand the full value of nature to ensure its protection and sustainable use,” said Sir Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

“This new inclusive framework demonstrates that while nature provides a bounty of essential goods and services, such as food, flood protection and many more, it also has rich social, cultural, spiritual and religious significance – which needs to be valued in policymaking as well.”

Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
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