With the total world population now living in urban environments reaching nearly 50% it is becoming increasing apparent that we need to drastically rethink urban living. Urban forestry has been recognised for centuries as the key to beautiful city-scaping, however it is only more recently that studies have indicated trees are essential to a happy and healthy urban life.
In the UK alone air pollution kills 40,000 people every year. This year (2017), during the record-breaking heatwave, there were emergency pollution alerts stretching from London across the South to Wales.
Moving towards the future we should aspire to smarter, greener urban living where any health complications due to pollution is deemed unacceptable. Despite facing a uniquely modern issue one of the most effective solutions is truly prehistoric; trees.
One large tree can absorb as much as 150kg of carbon a year and for every 10% increase in urban tree canopy, ozone is reduced by 3-7%. Not only do trees absorb CO2 they also reduce the level of other harmful air particulates which can cause a range of health issues from asthma to skin cancer. Research shows that a street lined with trees has a 60% reduction in the level of air particulates.
Reducing pollution, however, is not the only benefit which trees can give our urban spaces. There is a vast host of issues which can be solved with some smart urban forestry. National England state that trees save us £2.1 billion a year through the various positive health and social impacts they make.
A reduction in noise, stress and even crime are all effects of more trees. Scientific studies show our primitive instincts are more in-tune to forest environments and as such when around trees we become more relaxed, compassionate and active. Having trees in our gardens and streets go a long way to improving our personal and communal mood.
Tree’s make cities cooler too, potentially up to 8°C cooler! They can cut energy consumption by 30% on what would be used for air-conditioning. This is not to mention spaces in the garden; shade can go a long way to improving how comfortable an outdoor space can be.
When considering all of this, therefore, it is unsurprising that more expensive neighbourhoods have trees as a part of the street plan. In the UK alone the property value can rise by as much as 15% if the street is lined with trees. The aesthetic appeal is great, especially with brilliant autumn colours but not only that there is a proven reduction in crime in these areas due to the trees themselves.
With that being said, what can we do? Planting trees in our garden is a great start, as the old saying goes; ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today.’ In our own private spaces we can allow the tree to grow to full maturity when the full benefits are possible. There are many urban developers negligent of this simple fact.
Beyond this, extensive urban forestry projects with maturity in mind should be on the agenda of every local councillor. In the long run, trees pay for themselves and have proven essential to healthy and enjoyable city life.